Those who found Fist Fight’s excessive reliance on dick and fart gags to be a deal breaker may do well to check out this more insightful feud tale by indie director Onur Tukel. Catfight sees the helmer known for tackling issues of gender and diversity aim his focus at an ongoing conflict with genuinely depraved results. Unmissable stuff, Tukel’s raw and stripped down aesthetics power a devilishly engaging tale of two very different women brought together by hatred and loss, the pair played terrifically by a smirkingly unlikeable Anne Heche and an out-of-her-comfort-zone – yet strangely captivating – Sandra Oh.
Oh is pampered New York trophy wife Veronica, Heche struggling gay artist Ashley, their paths almost destined to cross one night at a swanky loft party. Through an almost trivial misunderstanding made worse by Veronica’s boredom-induced drinking, the pair soon find themselves in an all-out brawl in the building’s stairwell. Brutal, bloody and bone-breaking, the fight goes on to drastically change both of their lives forever – the resulting years spent attacking one another leading to bankruptcy, deaths, public humiliation, and self-imposed exile.
Tukel’s greatest coup is easily in his casting, with both leading ladies either playing off or subverting their stock roles at every turn. Heche, for example, finds impressive ground in toying with her more nagging persona of late nineties comedies, while Oh emerges an outright star with a transitional performance that sees her run the gambit from would-be Real Housewife to vengeful scrapper and beyond. In keeping with Heche’s nineties profile, it’s quite fitting that Alicia Silverstone puts in a surprisingly poignant turn as Heche’s hilariously parodic hipster girlfriend, while Oh gets able support of her own in the dependable hands of bit player Myra Lucretia Taylor.
Sadly, Catfight falls short of being an outright win by way of two rather glaring and almost constant caveats. Firstly, the presence of comic sidekick Ariel Kavoussi may be one of the worst in any film this year, her baby-voiced Sally annoying to the point of generating flat-out anger and garnering genuine questions as to quite what the tone of Catfight really is. Stylistically though, Tukel seems just as confused – the addition of jarringly cartoonish sound effects to the film’s otherwise quite brutal slugging matches seemingly a decision made out of fear that its audience will be turned off by their brutal aggression.
It’s that aggression that makes Catfight so alluring however, the added cartoony elements denying us a shockingly insightful tale of violence and its consequences. It’s a fascinating feature that’s just crying out to be seen by an audience willing to revel in the dark-hearted and nasty cynicism of it all, and though they doubtless will, they’ll likely do so almost begrudgingly thanks to its woefully misguided attempt to broaden its comedic scope and dull its edges.
Catfight is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, March 10th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.