Talk about timing. Hillary loses the election, there’s a record-breaking Women’s March in Washington and then the week of a revitalised International Women’s Day, Catfight bitch slaps itself onto our screens. A post-feminist piece of backbiting, Onur Tukel’s hit-and-miss satire takes aim at a world of privileged women – which at the moment doesn’t appear to be that privileged at all. Sandra Oh plays Veronica Salt, a trophy wife whose husband is set to make a gleeful bundle out of the next war in the Middle-East. She’s a semi-alcoholic, cloying on her son, and offering advice on not being an artist but doing something that earns money.
Anne Heche is Ashley, a lesbian artist, struggling to make her impact on the world with her angry ‘miscarriage red’ work. Helping her girlfriend – Alicia Silverstone, would you believe it – cater a posh party, the venue for an accidental reunion with Veronica, who it turns out was once her roommate at college. Passive aggression soon becomes aggressive aggression and before you can say Fight Club the two are cleaning each other’s clocks in the stairwell. The consequences of that first fight ricochet throughout the film and like Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel in Ridley Scott’s The Duellists, the two former friends are doomed to be locked in mutually assured destruction, with their respective fates and fortunes see-sawing.
In the meantime, the war in the Middle-East escalates, claiming its own victims. The satire is so broad strokes, Tukel seems to be painting with Dulux. Classic FM favourites boom from the soundtrack as the women go mano-a-mano, aiming for a Clockwork Orange-style contrast between the civilised trilling of Mozart and the sound of bone-crunching power drivers. But Tukel’s own punches consistently fail to land. Satire exaggerates from a truth, but there’s much in here that just feels wrong. We repeatedly see a late night talk show host riffing about the political situation before introducing the “fart machine”: a man who wanders the stage farting to the audience’s delight. Really? This is a satirical swipe at TV by someone who hasn’t been watching TV.
With the exception of Jimmy Fallon, it’s hard to think of a single host of this type who isn’t actually providing articulate, whip and whip-smart commentary at the moment. The palpable hits on the other hand are bang on familiar targets of liberal self-hatred. Pretentious artists, war profiteers and tree-huggers all get some second-hand bile. Where the film does hit is with its leads who both fully commit to their despicable characters, revelling in their nastiness and enthusiastically punching each other in the face as frequently as circumstances allow. Their delivery elevates the material and towards the end threaten to round themselves out into something more like people. Sadly, Catfight never lands the knockout blow. Bring on the fart machine.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty