Catfight movie review: punches not pulled

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Catfight green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Takes women’s hostility out of the realm of the passive-aggressive and gives it free comedic rein physically in a way that is hilarious, disturbing, and pointed.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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,tweet 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.

Does this bother you? Does it bother you when men look like this onscreen?
Does this bother you? Does it bother you when men look like this onscreen?tweet

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.tweet (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 violencetweet: 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.

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Stacy Livitsanis
Stacy Livitsanis
Tue, Mar 14, 2017 3:35pm

Privilege, entitlement and wealth breeds assholism. I loved this film. Catfight is something I thought I’d never see again: an American motion picture comedy that’s funny and intelligent (those two things are surely symbiotic). Brutally black and cutting but the film is honest and has a soul. It isn’t just pointless mean-spiritedness. When Veronica watches the videos of her son it’s played sincerely. It’s a real moment, not a winking windup. Even with some ironic music it never grows into aggravating smugness. Such a rare quality.

The fighting in this film, and in films like Raze, Haywire and Everly, reveals my own curious biases: I don’t find it uncomfortable to see women fighting onscreen – I’d love to see much more of it – but I still wince more when women are struck than when men are. It just feels like it hurts more. Context barely mitigates this reaction. A lifetime of seeing movies with men pummelling each other senseless in a way that no human in reality could possibly survive and walking away barely bruised, with women barely ever given the same opportunities for unreal carnage, has helped maintain this mindset, naturally.

There’s a lot of small moments that stood out. One of my favourites was when Veronica is checking into a cheap hotel and after a minor misunderstanding makes an offhand remark about the clerk being deaf, to which he replies, yes, I am, due to horrific childhood trauma. Effectively shamed and walking away, the young man calls out to her a line that could be a slogan for the film: “Try to be nicer to people”.

And I loved all of Ashley’s “insane” art. I’d happily have one of those on my wall.