Upon watching a trailer for Catfight, you might suppose there would be more detail to the premise behind Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley’s (Anne Heche) intense, ultimately physical feud. Onur Tukel, who wrote and directed the film, however, doesn’t see fit to elaborate too much further on the why behind the two women’s bitter rivalry, rekindled at a party for Veronica’s husband, Stanley (Damian Young).
Veronica, who has become a trophy wife/beard since her days in college with Ashley, encounters the latter when ordering a glass of wine (though Stanley expressly told her not to drink) at said party, remarking, “You look just like a girl I went to college with.” Ashley, not wanting to be recognized in her stead as caterer, doesn’t encourage the recognition, but Veronica does enough of a double take to realize it really is her. Though she’s been rather depressed of late, especially since her only son, Kip (Giullian Yao Gioiello), has taken a shine to art rather than something more practical like business, the sight of Ashley in this “lesser” state brings a smile to her face.
To bring an even wider grin to her countenance, when she asks Ashley, “So, where you?” she gives Veronica the satisfying answer of replying, “Um, Bushwick.” Veronica knowingly nods, “Oh. Bushwick… Of course.” And yes, it is more than a bit embarrassing–Ashley’s inappropriate-for-an-adult-of-her-age lifestyle spent painting tortured, red-saturated canvases in an “artist’s studio” in between trying to get pregnant with her girlfriend, Lisa (Alicia Silverstone, in a very understated performance–save for the part where she gives everyone shit for the gifts they offer her at her baby shower).
But at least Ashley can make fun of Veronica for having a gay husband. As the verbal sparring between them reaches a crescendo, the two mercifully separate, that is, until Veronica encounters her in the stairwell, accidentally opening the door onto her as Ashley inhales from her joint. Veronica laughs, accusing, “You’re such a loser.” A few more remarks exchanged between them is all it takes to become a full-on, very literal bloodbath, resulting in Veronica falling down the stairs and getting severely concussed.
This fight, so nonsensical and escalated for seemingly no particular good reason (we’re never even given so much as a backstory on what led to their mutual hatred), is a straightforward commentary on how grudge-holding women can be toward one another. Yet perhaps the most acute statement in Catfight isn’t about female rivalry fueled by competitiveness, but the (sadly not so) overblown political state of affairs going on as the years of their feud take place. With the barometer of a late night comedy show host tracking the absurd goings-on at the government level, we’re ultimately taken to the point where the draft has been reinstated (the age is now sixteen because, “if you can drive, you can fight”). Veronica only learns of this after exiting her two-year coma and discovering some very harsh facts about the new state of both existence at large and her own personal life.
Experiencing what amounts to a riches to rags story, Ashley, on the other hand, has been thriving both professionally and in her relationship with Lisa. As it turns out, the escalation of the war on terror has made the public amenable to the notion of putting something as rage-filled and depressing as Ashley’s work on their walls. Her assistant, Sally (Ariel Kavoussi), meanwhile, persists in drawing solely blue rabbits–blue, a color of extreme contention for Ashley. As her popularity mounts, Ashley seems to fear losing “it,” that inexplicable quality that is suddenly making her art so sought after. And so, she turns to her great nemesis for inspiration in creating a painting modeled after that very memorable evening of punching her in the face.
But Ashley’s prosperity is obviously not something Veronica is going to take without yet another fight. And so the cycle continues in this extremely bizarre and rather unprecedented movie about the pure and unbridled antagonism women can so often feel for one another (you know, behind that facade of “solidarity”).