Covering a period of almost five years, Onur Turkel’s new film “Catfight” depicts the relationship of two college friends turned foes. By using black comedy satire, Turkel addresses privilege — and some people’s ignorance of it. Sandra Oh and Anne Heche play two ex-friends who run into each other 20 years after their split.
Following their separation, the two women end up on very different life paths. Veronica (Oh) is married to a successful U.S. senator currently investing in the war effort, which she encourages because of the wealth it brings the couple. She has a sweet teenage son who wants to be an artist, to her chagrin. Ashley (Heche) is a failing artist who makes grim art that no one wants. To make money, she helps her girlfriend with her catering business.
During a catering event where Ashley is working — which happens to be Veronica’s husband’s party to celebrate the new war — the two women run into each other for the first time in decades. During the evening, old wounds are reopened and the two get into an over-the-top brawl. By the time the pair is separated, Veronica is injured to the point of being comatose.
Veronica’s coma quickly turns the women’s situations on end. By the time she wakes up, Veronica has lost all her money, while Ashley’s grim art has become hugely popular — in wartime, her dark outlook mirrored the feelings of the public.
Although the film is outlandish and ridiculous, it achieves its intent. Both Oh and Heche give depth and range to their characters. Oh’s Veronica begins as a one-dimensional character but grows into a multidimensional, fascinating woman. Oh deepens the character’s relationship with the world and broadens her perspective.
On Heche’s part, Ashley starts out as an unlikable, uptight drunk. There is arguably less development in Heche’s Ashley, but the character still has emotional depth despite her outwardly flat and angry personality. She is harsh with her quiet assistant, Sally, but shows her lighter side in moments with her girlfriend. One of the film’s strongest moments is when Ashley awakens from her own coma — unrelated to Veronica’s — and gets the same speech about her situation from the doctor as Veronica got. The parallel of the two lives is drawn out in a stunningly powerful way. The fight scenes between the women are ridiculous, but the story around them makes these absurd displays much more engaging.
Through satire, Turkel takes jabs at the U.S. government, the healthcare system and popular culture — one known for encouraging violence. There is also a blatant stab at the 2016 presidential election during an otherwise loopy explanation from Veronica’s aunt of the personalities of the trees in her backyard. One of the trees is named Bernie, another Hillary and another Donald.
Although the writing and commentary are complex and interesting, it is truly Oh and Heche’s acting that keeps the film exciting. Their performances are striking and make the film memorable and intriguing.
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