TIFF Journal: ‘Catfight’


Movie Rating:


Sometimes a movie that’s actually kind of good is even more irritating to watch than a total failure. ‘Catfight’ is a little indie with some great ideas, a hell of a cast, and even a number of fantastic sequences, but none of it goes anywhere.

In fact, the longer ‘Catfight’ plays the more writer/director Onur Tukel seems to squander his ideas and drift further away from whatever the hell he was trying to say. At the same time, it’s not a disaster or completely irredeemable. There’s some good stuff here, which just makes the rest so much more frustrating.

The comedy stars Anne Heche and Sandra Oh as a pair of former college friends whose adult lives could not be more different. Ashley (Heche) is a struggling artist always short on cash and interest in her work, but is at least in love with her girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone). Meanwhile, Veronica (Oh) is a wealthy New York housewife with a loving son and no real profession or hobby beyond sucking back wine whenever possible. They meet at a party that Veronica is hosting and Ashley is catering. Within seconds of being reunited, the pair start fighting. It’s a brutal knock-down, drag-out, blood-soaked affair that lands Veronica in a coma for two years. When she wakes up, her entirely family is dead and her fortune gone. Meanwhile Ashley’s art career has taken off and her girlfriend is expecting a baby. That means it’s time for Round Two and another trip to the coma ward for someone.

Hey, you don’t see that every day, right? It’s kind of a funny idea that Tukel pushes in all sorts of strange directions to explore and mock everything from politics and class warfare to art world absurdity and wartime atrocity. The tone is comedic, but weaves in and out of darker ideas. Heche and Oh are ideally cast, both funny yet always entirely credible and more than physically capable of delivering the required fisticuffs. (Plus, Silverstone is strong enough to make you lament the loss of her career.) It’s pretty funny, smart and unpredictable with a strong presence.

Unfortunately, the movie never really goes anywhere. Tukel may throw a bunch of intriguing balls into the air, but he doesn’t catch many of them. The film is mostly a collection of satirical targets in search of punchlines. It seems to eventually settle on some sort of odd symbolism about Iraq war politics, with Heche representing the arty left and Oh the entitled right, but even there it’s hard to understand why the filmmaker is making those comparisons or what he’s trying to say. Like the central fight scenes themselves, ‘Catfight’ is funny at first then slowly wears out its welcome and ends with a whimper rather than the promised bang.

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