About 13 years ago, I scored a pretty decent tip during a barbacking shift. That night I came home and did what most smart people do: I went on eBay and searched for bootleg Kung Fu DVDs. About 45 minutes later, any progress my bank account would have made had become dust in the wind thanks to my rampant, reckless spending. I did walk away with a pretty impressive nerd haul of nine DVDs delivered to me over the next couple of weeks. One of those films wasn’t a Kung Fu flick at all but was a legit, recent release entitled 2LDK. The premise was amazingly simple — tensions between two female roommates go from simmering to outright explosive violence over the course of one night in one room.
I mention Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s film because it was the first thing I thought of when I saw the poster for Onur Tukel’s (Applesauce, Red Flag) new film, Catfight. Unlike that film, Tukel’s film doesn’t submerge itself in violent theatrics or serve as 2LDK — The American Version For Those Who Hate Subtitles. On the poster, Anne Heche and Sandra Oh are viciously grappling and exchanging “eat shit and die” glances while exuberant texts from the New York Times praise the film as an “acid attack on callous privilege” that was a “proudly unsubtle reminder of the fragility of civility.” The pull quote had me ready for something else. I would have been fine if it turned into a heightened version of Alex Ross Perry’s psychodrama Queen of Earth. I saw the same movie that the New York Times saw, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t come away a lot less exuberant. A lot.
Veronica (Sandra Oh) is married to an opportunistic, money-grubbing defense contractor and has a sensitive teenage son in a big apartment in Manhattan. When not soused on wine, she’s busy discouraging her son from pursuing his dreams of being an artist. Meanwhile, angry artist Ashley (Anne Heche) is living in Bushwick, creating overtly political paintings while her caterer girlfriend Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) begs her to find a stable path. We see Veronica and Ashley are both suffering their own little indignities. One night Lisa has Ashley help her serve hors d’oeuvres at a fancy party Veronica is attending. Once they bump into each other, it becomes apparent Ashley and Veronica were old college enemies. In a matter of minutes, the two become engaged in a vicious stairwell fight that puts Veronica in a two-year coma. Once she wakes, she gets served a double “I don’t know how to tell you this” from her former housekeeper, Donna. Veronica is not only struggling to walk but also to come to terms with her husband’s suicide and her son’s death after being drafted into that unnamed war in the Middle East her once-living hubby was so ecstatic about. Meanwhile, everything’s coming up Milhouse for Ashley. She’s selling angry, leftist anti-war paintings left and right — even that painting of a decapitated sperm has sold for $5,000. Talk about your reversal of fortune. You’d be right if you smell revenge on the way.
After watching Catfight, I wrote down a series of smarmy insults directed at the film. I was impressed by my asinine bitchiness:
“Catfight reminds me of a rank, odorous couch covered in Febreze.”
“Sometimes I want to punch this movie in the face.”
“Oh, look at you, Catfight, you’re indulging in lowbrow tendencies like mid ’70s 42nd Street trash, but it’s obviously absurdist satire! And your title? I love it! It’s at once celebrating and decrying the sexist male gaze! Goddamn you’re clever, Catfight!”
“If you listen closely, you can hear this movie fellating itself.”
After reading my off-the-reservation rants, I winced with a twinge of embarrassment. I thought to myself, “Let it go, man! It’s just a movie! There are much, much more important things to get wound up about! For the love of God, there is an orange rectum running the country! Have your little liberal conniption fit over that! Don’t waste synapses on a quasi-intellectual satire that makes Bill Maher monologues sound like cutting-edge observations.”
Catfight is not a horrible movie. There are other movies out there way more deserving of a film nerd’s pointless ire. That said, I just didn’t dig it the way I had hoped. So, I stepped back from my emotional immaturity. Who am I to spaz over a film people worked hard on when I can barely write one coherent, typo-free article?
Heche’s Ashley and Oh’s Veronica are pretty believable assholes. We aren’t supposed to give a damn about them. If any of the film’s characters were relatable, it would be Ashley’s meek assistant, Sally (Ariel Kavoussi), and Veronica’s forgiving housekeeper, Donna (Myra Lucretia Taylor). In fact, all of the acting is pretty good. A great cameo by Dylan Baker as a burdened coma doctor is pretty funny. The film’s conceit is essentially that we all have the propensity to be or have been shitty human beings. Works for me, but outside of introducing that idea, the film offers little else. It’s myopic. You can indulge in either B-movie levels of ultra-violence or examinations of human failings, but to attempt both at the same time is a delicate balancing act at which Tukel doesn’t succeed.
Still, I’d like to conclude my review by noting, outside of the film’s great performances, Catfight‘s few other positive attributes: There is a pretty neat editing choice where one character exudes joy over David Lynch that cuts to the next scene of Sandra Oh’s character walking around carrying a pile of logs. It may be a stretch but I’m hoping that was an intentional aside to Twin Peaks … maybe?
That’s all I got.