Catfight (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Morbid, vicious, and, yes, violent

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“Catfight” is a morbid and vicious black comedy about the violent conflict between two different characters. Although it simply observes from the distance how these two characters respectively go up and down while occasionally clashing hard with each other, the movie mostly works thanks to its wry sense of humor as well as the committed performance from its two leading performers, and we cannot help but laugh more and more as the story sways back and forth between them.

During the first act, the movie quickly establishes its two main characters and their respective current situations. While they were once close college friends a long time ago, Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche) have been quite distant to each other for many years, and we observe how different their lifestyles are. While Veronica has living a cozy and luxurious life with her rich husband and their adolescent son in a posh apartment located in the Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, Ashley has been a struggling artist living with her partner Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) in the Brooklyn neighborhood, and she has been quite frustrated as her artistic career has been going nowhere mainly due to her rather provocative painting style.

During one evening, Veronica and her husband go to the birthday party of his close associate/friend who is going to help his business a lot, and that is where she happens to come across Ashley, who happens to be serving the guests there along with Lisa. When they recognize each other, they seem to be glad to meet each other at first, but then their old mutual bad feelings are awakened as they talk more with each other, and we are not so surprised when they eventually come to fight hard with each other outside the party place due to some unfortunate coincidence accompanied with drug, alcohol, and, above all, grudge.

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Now I should be a little more careful about describing what happens next for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that the screenplay by director/writer/editor Onur Tukel has lots of fun with how things get completely turned upside down for both Veronica and Ashley after their first catfight. While Veronica is shocked to find herself hitting the bottom without anyone to help her except her ex-housekeeper, Ashley becomes more confident than before as her life and career advance more than before, and she is also going to have a baby as her partner has always wanted.

Meanwhile, we get a series of darkly humorous moments which frequently emphasize the warped reality surrounding the characters in the film. There is a blatant running gag involved with a crude TV comedy show which the supporting characters in the film always find funny to the bewilderment of Veronica and Ashley, and then we are also served with a number of whimsical elements including the childish but popular cartoon created by Ashley’s mousy assistant/apprentice Donna (Myra Lucretia Taylor), whose cheery artistic style does not fit that well with Ashley’s many disturbing works.

Although both Ashley and Veronica are not particularly likable characters to say the least, the movie keeps holding our attention as ruthlessly pushing them into more misery and hate, and we come to observe this process with some horrible fascination and curiosity. We do not care much about them, but we brace ourselves for what may happen sooner or later between them, and we surely get a load of uncomfortable laughs as they are fatefully back on their collision course later in the story.

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Of course, the movie depends a lot on the presence and talent of its two lead performers. While Sandra Oh, a wonderful Korean Canadian actress who drew my attention for the first time via her feisty supporting turn in Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” (2004), is reliable as usual, Anne Heche, whom I still fondly remember for her good supporting turn in Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog” (1997), is an equal match for Oh, and they are constantly believable whenever their characters push or pull each other on the screen. Never making any excuse or compromise on their problematic characters, both of them willingly go all the way as demanded even when the movie steps back a little during its last act, and the ferocious comic energy between them is why it works to the end.

Although the movie is basically the showcase of Oh and Heche’s acting ability, a few other main cast members in the film manage to hold each own small place around them. While Alicia Silverstone, whom you probably remember for her enjoyable performance in Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless” (1995), will definitely make your cringe when Lisa makes many of her friends feel awkward and miserable during the baby shower for her and Ashley, Myra Lucretia Taylor steals the show with her pitiful meekness, and Tituss Burgess, who recently got more prominent than before thanks to his Emmy-nominated supporting turn in TV sitcom series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, is also fun to watch in his brief appearance.

In conclusion, “Catfight”, which is currently available on Netflix, may be not for everyone, but you may enjoy it as much as I did if you are willing to appreciate its twisted aspects and the commendable efforts from Oh and Heche. As clearly reflected by its very title, the movie is not going to pull any punch, so please don’t complain later that I did not warn you in advance.

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