Two former — well, can’t call ’em friends — acquaintances from college accidentally meet again 20 years later in New York, and their animosity is renewed in the most outrageous and farcical way: with fists. Catfight takes women’s hostility to other women out of the realm of the bitchy, of the passive-aggressive, of the sublimated, of the turned-inward and gives it free comedic rein in a way that is hilarious, disturbing, and pointed.
The big meaty fleshy punches as struggling artist Ashley (Anne Heche: The Other Guys) and trophy wife Veronica (Sandra Oh: Tammy) beat the crap out of each other are cartoonishly amped up with ridiculous sound FX, but there’s no need to magnify their hatred for each other: Ashley, who makes belligerent, “insane” paintings in her Brooklyn studio, cannot abide Veronica’s cheery conformist privilege, and uptown Veronica, who embarrasses her husband with her alcoholic self-medicating, has nothing but disdain for “useless” art. Where writer-director Onur Tukel will take things from this opener is unlike anything you will expect, not only because the off-kilter black comedy allows for greater possibilities than you can realize in advance, but also because we’ve never seen a movie quite like this one before. (You’d likely never guess from this description that I was reminded at certain points of both Idiocracy and Robocop.)
Heche and Oh are all-in for what becomes a sendup of onscreen violence: if you’re uncomfortable watching them brawl, which happens several times throughout the movie, ask yourself how this is any different from what we see men do all the time onscreen. There’s an underlying tweaking, too, of our hypocrisy about violence, via a running background joke about the US’s involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war: we say violence never solves any problems, yet we operate on the assumption that it does… certainly it does in movies all too frequently. By shaking up the way such violence typically plays out onscreen, Catfight makes us really see how invisible and ordinary it has become.