The Claws Come Out

(USA, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Onur Tukel
Starring: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche

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The spirit of Russ Meyer endures in Catfight. Sandra Oh and Anne Heche face off in the mother of all catfights in this utter bonkers black comedy from Onur Tukel. Catfight doesn’t offer buxom babe sexploitation in the vein of Faster, Pussycat, but this darkly funny girl-on-girl action nevertheless delivers a thrill by empowering women through violence. Catfight is both a guilty pleasure and a frisky social satire.

The nastiness of Catfight ensues when former college friends Veronica (Oh) and Ashley (Heche) run into one other at a party when they’re both feeling extra skittish. Like two felines tangoing by the sofa, both women get their backs up and unleash the fury. The scrap is an epic tussle.

But first, the backstories, since even mischievous kitties have their reasons for sneaking up and bonking their owners on the head.

Veronica, for example, runs into Ashley just at the moment in which she faces the futility of her entire life. The trophy wife of a successful businessman (Damian Young) who makes wads of cash out of America’s war efforts, Veronica spends her nights reconsidering her success in between goblets of red wine. She even discourages her son, Kip (Giullian Yao Gioiello), from pursuing his obvious passion and talent for art because, as she says with a dismissively haughty sneer, some girl she knew in college tried that and didn’t turn out so great. But, as her husband points out, neither did Veronica’s same plans for studying business that she encourages their son to pursue.

Ashley, on the other hand, is still toughing it out as an artist. Her passion is obvious and her talent is a little more subjective as she furiously crafts angry red canvasses of anti-establishment rage. At the request of her girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone), who’s tired of being the breadwinner to support Ashley’s unsustainable endeavours, Ashley finds herself doing the side gig shuffle and taking a catering job at a swanky party. And, of course, it’s a party for Veronica’s boss that’s being thrown on the night that their lives all are collectively going to shit.

Now back to the fight.

A few glasses of wine and catty exchanges later, Veronica and Ashley get physical. Their catfight is unlike anything the movies have delivered before. These two women pummel the living daylights out of one another.

Oh and Heche go blow for blow in a riotously funny exchange of bare-knuckle punches, hair tugs, and low blows. Both women fight dirty and the actresses let forth a great vengeance as their characters unleash the animals within. Forget social norms and niceties. Humans are animals and Catfight reveals our primal instincts. It isn’t pretty.

Round one ends with Veronica in a two-year coma during which she experiences a complete reversal of fortune. As they say, fortune smiles at some and laughs at others, and Ashley skyrockets to fame after performing a KO on her former BFF. Kitty has nine lives, though, and Veronica gets even by hunting down her fellow pussy and beating every ounce of shit out of her that she possibly can.

Tukel repeats the cycle as Ashley and Veronica face the same rises and falls. Each one enjoys both glory and misery at the expense of the other. The fights become more spiteful, more intense, and oh-so-deliciously more violent.

Tukel punctuates the three acts of sheer lunacy with commentary on America’s innate hunger for violence as the wars in the Middle East shape the lives of both women. The wars fuel a talk show that that plays on the TVs within the hospital room that both Veronica and Ashley stay during their respective comas, and the host’s commentary, along with a running bit of flatulence, stresses the ass-backwards decline of America. This added bit drives home the social parable within Catfight but it isn’t really necessary. The decay of humankind is plain in Veronica and Ashley’s behaviour. They both know what it’s like to lose everything, yet they choose revenge over reconciliation.

Here’s where Catfight becomes sinfully scintillating and sharply satirical. Both women are repugnant classists. They’re egotistical social butterflies fixated on status and class, but neither one wants to step outside the comfort zone of her own privilege and face the consequences that her lifestyle exerts on others. Tukel boldly ensures that Veronica and Ashley are both unlikable characters, yet equally juicy foes. Oh and Heche give two unexpectedly bold and unhinged performances to make the fight extra saucy. These savagely and ferociously funny performances are just wild. The stunt work is equally impressive, since the two characters really pummel one another without mercy.

One can enjoy watching these two women beat the crap out of one other because they both bring their own downfall. They know the pain they cause one another, but choose the way of the fist over the way of kindness. Looney Tunes violence has never been so caustic and cutting. As Oh and Heche punch, spit, scratch, and clobber one another with a multitude of ready-made weaponry like rubber tires, hammers, picture frames, rocks, and broken dreams. Catfight brings the full arsenal from primitive arms to contemporary warfare. The claws come out in Catfight and are they ever so sharp!

Catfight is available on home video.