The Daily Stream: Catfight And The Cathartic Benefit Of Punching Someone In The Face

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Catfight"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: After graduation, two former friends from college who now find themselves in extremely different lifestyles cross paths at a boujee cocktail party. Veronica (Sandra Oh) has become a shallow, entitled, trophy wife of a wealthy businessman, while Ashley (Anne Heche) and her partner Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) are struggling paycheck to paycheck as Ashley attempts to make it as an artist. 

Their reunion is not a pleasant one, with old grudges, hostilities, jealousy, and deep-seeded anger bubbling to the surface and leading to a brutal, bloody, and vicious fist fight in a stairwell that leaves Veronica comatose. When Veronica awakens two years later, she's lost everything, and discovers Ashley is thriving as an artist ... with paintings of Veronica's brutalized face after their fight. Rightfully furious, Veronica decides to track down Ashley and deliver her payback in the form of (you guessed it) another fist fight.

Why It's Essential Viewing

"Catfight" comes from Turkish-American filmmaker, actor, and artist Onur Tukel, who consistently makes some of the best dark comedies that go unnoticed by the general public. Tukel has made a name for himself in the New York independent film scene and boasts impressive ensemble casts in all of his work, but for the most part, the average movie fan has no idea who he is. 

"Catfight" is the perfect gateway film to the bananas ridiculous and often nihilistic mind of Onur Tukel. Despite the name, this is not your typical cinematic catfight. The violence between Sandra Oh and Anne Heche rivals the most ruthless action sequences. The two display a level of barbarity often reserved exclusively for men, with punching, hits below the belt, and plenty of realistic face-smashing.

If the premise of "Catfight" sounds absurd, don't worry, because the absurdity of ferocious violence between two estranged friends is part of the film's greater message. "Catfight" is Tukel's takedown of elitism, privilege, and a society that appears completely numb to genuine pain. The world around these characters is crumbling, society is breaking apart at the seams, and even after exploding with rage and extreme physical brawling, they still cannot extend empathy beyond their own narrow views of the world.

But it sure does look like it feels good when they let out their frustrations and land a punch right in the other's face.

Blunt Political Commentary

Tukel's film is not just a satire of the privileged class, but also a blunt and biting commentary on the hypocrisy of America. There's a not-so-subtle critique of American foreign policy and the American people's desensitization to the constant violence that surrounds us — most obviously presented through a fake TV show that plays on the hospital televisions where a sarcastic host (Craig Bierko) plays down the seriousness of terror alert systems, breezes by discussions of war, and provides updates to the bleak news cycle before leading into a news segment called "The Fart Machine" featuring an obese man in an adult diaper.

After Veronica's wealth is used up to pay for her medical bills while in the hospital, she is forced to seek refuge in the home of her former housekeeper (Myra Lucretia Taylor). One would assume this would humble Veronica, at least a little bit, and force her to reckon with her previous behavior. Tukel's vision of Veronica is incapable of seeing the forest for the trees, though, and quickly blames everything and everyone around her for her circumstances, unable to see the truth when it's literally smacking her directly across the face. 

The same goes for Ashle, who successfully builds a career off of provocative art centered on Veronica's pain. Not once does she process what her profiteering off of Veronica's busted up face says about herself, her art, or those that consume it. As far as she's concerned, she deserves the good that comes her way, no matter who had to be hurt in order for her to get to that place. AMERICA!

They Don't Know What Hit Them

"Catfight" came out in 2016, and there are little lines dropped in about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (a woman names trees after them), but 2016 is a pre-presidential term and pre-insurrection time. Reviews of the film upon release found the metaphor to be too heavy-handed, but in 2021, it feels exactly right. We are in the midst of a pandemic where we have things like the Herman Cain Awards, where we bear witness to COVID-19 deniers dying of COVID-19 in real time. We are at a point culturally where people can literally be smacked in the face with reality and refuse to see what is right in front of them. 

The unrestrained violence of "Catfight" is able to represent two ideas that are diametrically opposed: that it feels good to affirm your anger and just punch someone in the face when they deserve it, but also that sometimes people can be punched square in the face and have no idea what hit them or why. "Catfight" intended to be a metaphor for a lot of deeper systemic issues, but as time passes, it just feels like an examination of life.