Catfight played some festivals last year, but didn’t get anywhere near the release it should’ve had. It’s a riotous black comedy that rarely lets up during the film’s running time of 96 minutes. It boasts performances from Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, who have great interplay between each other.
It’s a film about privilege in New York City, and how events can rip that carpet right under your feet. Sandra Oh plays Veronica, who has everything—including a wealthy husband who is getting contacts out of the Middle Eastern wars. Anne Heche plays Ashley, who is a struggling lesbian artist working at Veronica’s husband’s party. They were friends in college, but haven’t seen each other for a long time, and quickly things escalate into a catfight that ends with one of them going into a coma for two years. The result is a bitter rivalry for years to come, while both women go through extreme ups and downs.
The influence of Todd Solondz is apparent, but nobody does black comedy better in the world of American indie cinema than he does. This is increased by the presence of Dylan Baker as the doctor, because he was so memorable as the paedophile in Solondz’s masterpiece Happiness. Director Onur Tukel decides to set the film in a strange alternative universe that is very close to today’s reality, but the media and politics are even more of a joke than they are now as everyone gets off on laughing at a farting man.
The satire in the film is unabashedly heavy-handed, which is very welcome in a world where everybody seems to play it safe. It touches on gender, race, class, sexuality and so forth, and there’s even a nice little dig on contemporary politics when Veronica’s crazy aunt names her trees after 2016 presidential candidates: “This tree’s name is Bernie. He’s sweet and thoughtful… That tree’s name is Donald. He’s an asshole.” It also has an air reminiscent of Idiocracy, but for the most part the humour and gags are more biting and simply work better (I’ve never quite got the satirical greatness of Idiocracy—maybe with Trump it just seems more like a documentary.)
Sandra Oh has certainly showed her comedic chops over the years, so her great performance isn’t a big revelation. The real surprise is Anne Heche, who of course was a star for fleeting moment in the late ‘90s, but due to mental ill health and her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres (which was actually considered shocking in the ‘90s), her career took a nosedive. She has been clawing herself up and out of that position in recent years, and hopefully Catfight will spark a career resurgence, because she deserves it. She is much more than just an actress who displayed her butthole in Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho.
The supporting cast is strong: obviously, Dylan Baker is great in everything. Alicia Silverstone, who I didn’t even recognise, plays Ashley’s girlfriend. I was almost convinced it was Jennifer Jason Leigh, as with age Silverstone seems to be morphing into her. The real revelation is Ariel Kavoussi as the slightly autistic Sally, who is Ashley’s art assistant. If there was ever an actress to be in Todd Solondz’s acting troupe, she is it—she perfectly gets the balancing act of laughing with the character but also the uncomfortable laughing at that you get with Solondz’s work, which is where much of his humour stems from.
In closing, Catfight really shouldn’t be missed, it’s very much the great Todd Solondz film that he never made. It has deeply unsympathetic characters, with the exception of the black maid who works for Veronica. The director, Onur Tukel, who also wrote and edited the film, has been slugging along at making films since the late ’90s, but hopefully this gets discovered on Blu-Ray, Netflix, wherever, because he has a unique voice and I would like to see what he could do next with more money.
The disc isn’t loaded with features, but includes commentary tracks from writer/editor/director Onur Tukel and the stars Sandra Oh and Anne Heche. It’s rounded off with a fight choreography featurette, deleted scenes, a trailer and in the first pressing a booklet with writing on the film.