Netflix UK film review: Catfight
Matthew Turner | On 11, Mar 2017
Director: Onur Tukel
Cast: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, Tituss Burgess, Dylan Baker
Watch Catfight online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Black comedy doesn’t come much blacker than this shockingly dark satire from writer-director Onur Tukel. Anchored by a pair of fully committed performances from stars Anne Heche and Sandra Oh, Catfight both lives up to its title and goes to some excruciatingly uncomfortable places. The result is bloody and bruising, but also oddly cathartic and unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Set in New York, with a newly-elected President poised on the brink of war in the Middle East, the film centres on Veronica (Oh), the unhappy trophy wife of a probably gay husband (Damian Young), who stands to make a fortune from his war zone clean-up business. At a party to celebrate her husband’s new contract, Veronica comes face to face with Ashley (Heche), a former college friend and struggling artist, who’s helping out with her girlfriend Lisa’s (Alicia Silverstone) catering company.
After exchanging pointed barbs, the two women seek refuge in the same stairwell, where further insults quickly lead to full-on fisticuffs, the pair pounding on each other with a ferocity that even Liam Neeson’s Taken character would find excessive. That initial catfight (the first of three) has a profound and life-changing effect on one of the characters, although to say any more would severely limit the emotional impact of the surprises the script has in store (avoid the trailer, if you can, as it reveals way too much).
Oh and Heche are both actors who have been too often undervalued and under-used by Hollywood and Catfight can almost be viewed as a response to that, given the sheer unbridled rage channelled by both performers. Both are equally fearless when it comes to creating unsympathetic characters – Veronica and Ashley each have their monstrous moments, even before the fists start flying.
In addition, there’s strong comic support from Silverstone, who reveals her own mean streak in a spectacularly supercilious baby-shower sequence, while Ariel Kavoussi shines as Ashley’s helium-voiced, butter-wouldn’t-melt assistant Sally and Myra Lucretia Taylor is good value as Veronica’s down-to-earth housekeeper, Donna. There are also brief, fun turns from Kimmy Schmidt’s Titus Burgess and Dylan Baker, as hospital employees.
As for the fight scenes, impressively choreographed by stunt coordinator Balint Pinczehelyi, they are at once frighteningly realistic and ridiculously over the top, complete with amped-up sound effects for each well-timed wallop. On top of that, they’re afforded an extra level of genius by Tukel’s inspired soundtrack choices for each punch-up, which range from stormy classical crescendos to patriotic brass band pieces and circus-style can-can tunes.
In addition to pulling off a series of clever reversals and time jumps, Tukel’s acerbic script ensures that the cultural context of the conflict is hammered home with some heavy-handed but effective satire, primarily through the regular appearances of a TV talk show host (Craig Bierko), who makes jokes about the ongoing war in the Middle East (which will impact the fortunes of both women in different ways), before ceding the floor to a man in a nappy called The Fart Machine (a joke nicked from Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, but no less effective here). The film also contains what has to be one of the more surreal political jokes of recent times, with Veronica’s crazy aunt (Amy Hill) introducing her to the various trees on her property: “That’s Bernie, he’s an oak, sweet and grounded. That’s Hillary – strong, but a little untrustworthy. Oh, that’s Donald. He’s an asshole.”
When push comes to shove, this is a sustained comic tour-de-force, by turns outrageous, shocking and surprisingly moving. To that end, its future cult movie status seems assured. Highly recommended.
Catfight is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.