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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Catfight  (2017)
3½ Stars
Directed by Onur Tukel.
Cast: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, Amy Hill, Ariel Kavoussi, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Giullian Yao Gioiello, Damian Young, Stephen Gevedon, Tituss Burgess, Dylan Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Peter Jacobson, Catherine Curtin, Ronald Guttman, Ivana Milicevic, Betsy Holt, Jordan Carlos, Craig Bierko.
2017 – 95 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for strong brutal bloody violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 15, 2017.
For anyone who has been feeling constantly upset, distressed and in disbelief over the current political climate, "Catfight" just might be the most cathartic remedy that has yet been made. The understandably indignant brainchild of writer-director Onur Tukel (2015's "Applesauce"), the film uses the drop-kicking, fist-flying animosity between two former college frenemies as a metaphor for his frustrations and outrage over everything from the post-9/11 war in Iraq to, at the time of filming, the wildly divisive upcoming U.S. Presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Beyond that, Tukel has made an intensely human story amidst its viciously accurate black humor, an uncomfortable but unmissable study in social status, class relations, professional struggle, personal loss, and the sometimes cataclysmic power of words and actions.

Sandra Oh (2014's "Tammy") and Anne Heche (2011's "Cedar Rapids") are flat-out brilliant as old school foes who reunite years later in New York City and quickly destroy each other's lives. Oh is Veronica, a hard-drinking trophy wife with a businessman husband, Stanley (Damian Young), who has begun to grow tired of her and a teenage son, Kip (Giullian Yao Gioiello), whose aspirations as an artist she constantly puts down. Heche is Ashley, a prickly struggling artist still waiting for her big break as girlfriend Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) provides for them. When they unexpectedly meet again at a cocktail party—Veronica is accompanying her husband, Ashley is serving drinks behind the bar—it takes almost no time for their simmering resentments to rise to the surface. Before the night is through, they will have beat each other to pulps in the building's stairwell. This is merely the start to a violent feud that will inexorably alter both of their futures.

"Catfight" is a whip-smart cringe comedy and an agonizing tragedy all at once, the awful things which happen to Veronica and Ashley completely avoidable yet somehow inescapable. They are fatefully linked in their hatred, not just with one another but at a society that has both let them down and turned them into people they hardly recognize. At least when they are together, they can agree on wanting to bash each other's faces in. The extended hand-to-hand fight sequences may be some of the most brutal ever portrayed on film, putting to shame the most extravagant of action movies. The film is so, so much more than that, though, a caustic, merciless, painfully hilarious and gloriously flinch-inducing satire of the screwed-up place we all call home.

Sandra Oh and Anne Heche are on fire as Veronica and Ashley, perfectly striking each grace note within multidimensional performances that make the viewer simultaneously love and hate them. Despite their penchant for cruelty—and who doesn't have this, at one time or another?—they are ever-changing human beings who gradually learn and seek to make amends for the error of their ways. The emotional pain and regret Oh exhibits is heartbreaking as her Veronica must grapple with some of the gravest losses a person can experience. Ashley's behavior, meanwhile, is about to get a whole lot worse before it gets better, a victim of her own fortune and then misfortune. Heche is excellent, slinging verbal daggers at her cheery, long-suffering assistant (Ariel Kavoussi, hugely funny) while finally realizing the past good things in her life she too long took for granted can never be as they once were. Alicia Silverstone (2016's "King Cobra"), as Ashley's girlfriend Lisa; Amy Hill (2009's "Couples Retreat"), as Veronica's paranoid Aunt Charlie; and Myra Lucretia Taylor (2002's "Unfaithful"), as Veronica's marginalized ex-housekeeper Donna, offer well-observed supporting turns, but it is Oh and Heche who own the film.

Again and again, "Catfight" verges on astonishing in its go-for-broke, no-fucks-given audacity. Writer-director Onur Tukel has mounted a film that is unmistakably acidic but somehow doesn't allow itself to be swallowed up by its own bitter inception. Tukel acknowledges the complex heroines in front of his camera, struggling to feel their way around the emotions they have no choice but to finally deal with. We care about them, even as we hope one of the punches to the kisser or cinder blocks to the skull will knock some sense into them. Alas, as with any political current event or social cause affecting the nation, Veronica and Ashley are destined to vehemently disagree as they continue to run around in circles, the debate raging on. They cannot seem to help themselves, but maybe, as the film's ambiguous, wickedly ironic final moments suggest, the cosmic energies of the rotten world they're suffering in may yet cry mercy.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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