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A brief review of "Catfight"

Rarely does a movie with as unlikeable a bunch of characters as Catfight keep me engaged from beginning to end.  Usually when a movie is an ensemble of dickheads, I give up on trying to find any empathy about thirty minutes in and my mind starts to wander.

It's not that I can't handle flawed protagonists or awkward situations or anything like that.  It's more that I don't take joy in seeing people drown in misery, self-inflicted or otherwise.  I need the hope that people are redeemable on some level or I just can't see the point.

For those reasons and more, Catfight is a movie that I should hate.  The characters are mean-spirited, spiteful villains who almost learn a lesson, but don't.  It has only the slightest hint of a moral, and a cruel, grim sense of humor that plays on personal tragedy.  Yet I still kinda dug it.

I think it may simply be that I respect its boldness.  The movie sets out to show you one of the most toxic relationships that could possibly exist between two women, and then it goes for broke and really pushes all the limits it can.  Strange as it might sound, it kinda reminds me of Bride Wars.  Bride Wars is just a dumb fluff comedy about two women who get into a petty spitting match about their weddings, but it's always stuck in my head as being a missed opportunity.  I keep thinking, "That movie could be a really great dark comedy if they didn't wimp out and the two leads really ramped up their antics."  Well... if they did that, then you'd probably get Catfight.  It's what happens when you turn the dial the whole way up.

The part where you really know what kind of movie you're in for - and which sold me on the rest of it - comes about twenty-five minutes in or so.  It's technically a spoiler, so I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say: it's grim as hell.  If you find yourself laughing, or at least mesmerized by the spectacle, then congratulations; you'll be on board for the remaining hour.

The cast is perfect the whole way around.  Sandra Oh and Anne Heche are fantastic and probably had a hell of a lot of fun trying out their fight choreography.  They're helped by various supporting actresses, including Alicia Silverstone,  Myra Lucretia Taylor, Amy Hill, and perhaps most of all Ariel Kavoussi, who steals every scene she's in.

That's not to say it's a perfect movie.  There's a lack of polish throughout.  Scenes have a tendency to feel unfinished, like just a tiny bit of editing was still needed.  And I can't say I was a fan of the musical choices.  More than one scene undercuts the on screen violence with a classical piece that gradually builds in volume.  I think the intent was to mimic Looney Tunes, as the characters get into over-the-top brawls that can only be described as "cartoonish."  I can't say it worked for me - it felt more like a snarky wink to the audience instead of a legit laugh.

And I'm not totally sold on the ending.  Not to say that there should have been anything bright and happy and life-affirming... just that there could have been more of a bow on the story to say, "Here's the lesson," instead of, "Hey, let's keep laughing at these idiots."

Regardless, Catfight is a movie our country might need now more than ever.  People are so quick to have snap judgments and hatred for each other over incredibly petty things, and we so easily forget that hate and anger are very context-specific.  The leads in Catfight are terrible people, sure - but there are moments that let you know they aren't completely beyond redemption.  Their flaw is that they allow their anger to shape their worldview instead of the other way around.  They each focus all the problems in their lives onto the other because the other is an easy target.  It's simpler to say, "That bitch ruined my life," than it is to say, "I wasn't really living my life all that well.  Also, I don't get along with that bitch, so I should do us both a favor and just steer clear."

One can't help but wonder if the movie would have been a magnitude more relevant and impactful if the director toned down the comedy for the sake of the drama.  That probably wasn't the movie that Onur Tukel wanted to make, but he got damn close.

My Rating: 4 / 5