Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche) used to be friends in college, but drifted apart when they started to move in different circles, with little love lost between them. Now both middle-aged, they have barely thought of one another in years, though tonight Veronica brings Ashley to mind when she considers her son Kip (Giullian Yao Gioiello) and his interest in art that she wishes to dissuade him from, remembering how difficult a career in that field is to sustain. Ashley, meanwhile, lives with her lover Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) and did indeed become an artist, though she is finding making a profit from it tough. Lisa is catering a party to celebrate Veronica's husband securing a deal to finance a war operation, which will put the two women on a collision course...
Catfight was a strange proposition, offering leading roles to two actresses who did not at this stage win them anymore, yet instead of having them pal up director Onur Tukel had them at loggerheads, such an unconventional arrangement that many were turned off the prospect of watching it once they discovered how literal the title was. That said, the battles here were more in the vein of what you would expect a male action star and his antagonist to get involved with, with loud impact noises and roundhouse punches which to their credit Oh and Heche managed to put across with not merely conviction but some authenticity: it was not realistic by any means, but in movieland these were solid hand to hand combat sequences.
The rest of the film around it was just as odd, an off-kilter affair that looked like a comedy at one point and a serious drama at others, yet was so deliberately skewed to discomfit the audience that it was difficult to know how to react. The plot was broken down into three acts, each lasting around half an hour, first Veronica had the upper hand but was brought low by an encounter with Ashley (and the effects of too many glasses of wine), then Ashley was triumphant until a return bout, then they both lived lives that had much to be desired, so what, you may ask, would they still have to fight about? This futility of not simply violence but also the need to have an enemy in your life was paramount in the theme, as a subplot sees the new President take the U.S.A. back to war.
If you are defining yourself against what you hate, posited Catfight, you are only living half an existence, since the rest of you is consumed with aggression and antipathy which eats you up inside. You could lose years to this, as the two protagonists do, for the second segment begins with one waking up after a coma, and the third with the other doing the same, revealing their feud has only left them far worse off than they would have been had they not chosen to lash out with such obsessive blame at the other woman for their problems which they refused to admit as much responsibility for as they should have done. This delusion was part and parcel of their personalities, yet it appeared to be the same for just about everyone else as well, as almost every character has their little quirks.
Quirks that can lead them to poor choices, as Kip does when he chooses to enlist for the war, and you imagine Lisa's well-meaning but obliviously cruel rejection of all the presents she is offered at a baby shower for witheringly right-on reasons did her few favours, and would psychologically damage her offspring in a manner she did not intend but would be too intransigent to realise the mistakes she was making anyway. There was a curious science fictional element to this in that it was taking place in a near future, or a parallel universe, but there were none of the trappings of that genre otherwise: we had most of our news from a current affairs chat show host (Craig Bierko) on television, and could gauge how the world was heading from that. This in addition contributed a satirical tone to the story that was difficult to discern otherwise, it was as if you were watching a remake of a foreign language film that had been awkwardly translated into English, but if you could put up with something that begged not to be taken at face value, yet offered few clues as to precisely what the proper reaction should be, Catfight was weird enough to be compelling.
[On DVD from Arrow Films and on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
On the Blu-ray as exclusives:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Optional subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Commentary with writer-editor-director Onur Tukel
Commentary with actors Sandra Oh and Anne Heche
Fight Choreography featurette
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Red Dress
First pressing only: O-Card, Booklet featuring new writing on the film.]