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TIFF Review: Catfight – “As fun, shocking or as poignant as you want it to be”

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catfight_01_mustuse

It’s hard to categorize Catfight.  Part comedy, part satire, part epic fisticuffs battle, the film is one of the most divisive I’m sure at the festival this year.  But, it’s also bloody (literally) good fun and surprisingly comes packaged with a lot to say.

The film focuses on Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche).  Once friends in college, but whose friendship ended under less than ideal circumstances, the two don’t see one another for twenty years until a coincidental meeting at a party.  Veronica is now the trophy wife whose constant companion seems to be a wine glass.  Ashley is an artist who is manning the bar as help fo her caterer girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone).  After a judgemental, passive-aggressive exchange the two part ways, until running into each other in the stair well.  In a now alcohol fuelled rage, the two engage in a verbal fight that quickly becomes physical – a no holds barred punch throwing, head smashing brawl.  And that’s just round one.

Writer-director Onur Tukel doesn’t hold back.  The violence is grimace inducing, turn your head away, Tarantino-esque fighting, full of strong sound effects and bloody closeups.  The fact that it is two women makes it even more jarring – and engaging.  Catfight, despite its title, is not what we really expect when we hear the word.  This film passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Tukel has created strong, dynamic characters and he is a master at making your sympathy shift between the two women as the film progresses through its second and third chapters.  However, despite the all-out gory fight scenes, he also has a lot to say.  Catfight is, at its best, a satire.  There is no shortage of commentary – political, socioeconomic and cultural.

Heche and Oh are there perfect pairing to make this movie work.  The two seem to have thrown themselves into these roles, and they’re just as good throwing themselves at one another.  As their characters change with the consequence of their actions, they make the audience react differently to each of them and to each altercation.  The shift in audience alliance is key.  And, while Silverstone’s time on screen is short, it is memorable.  A scene with her at a baby shower finding things wrong with all the gifts (a wonderful satire of how cautious our society has become) shows her comedic talents, and is still one that resonates with me days after viewing.  We should hope that roles like this bring her more frequently to the big screen.

Catfight will likely be a film you love or hate.  It can be as fun, shocking or as poignant as you want it to be.  Rare is the film that can be all three successfully.  With its wry social commentary, Tukel creates an exaggerated world which becomes surprisingly meaningful, even as its main characters fight for their own self interests. And perhaps this is the point – that as society crumbles those selfish battles become even more petty.  Or maybe its just to watch Oh and Heche kick the crap out of one another.  Either way, it’s a blast.

4-out-of-5

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