When Onur Tukel unveiled Abbie Singer/Songwriter at the Brooklyn Film Festival, we noted that he’d premiered three features in two years, which pretty much made him the Woody Allen of Brooklyn. The comparison remains apt with Catfight, a metaphysical dark comedy that’s a distinctly Woodyesque meditation on karma and creativity. It opens today at Cinema Village 12th Street.
The titular catfight is between Veronica (Sandra Oh), the wine-swilling trophy wife of a profiteering defense contractor, and Ashley (Anne Heche), a self-absorbed, brooding artist who’s starting a family with her partner (Alicia Silverstone). When he premiered Bushwick vampire comedy Summer of Blood, Tukel told us that he identified with the kind of “narcissistic idiot” that appears in Deconstructing Harry, and these two definitely fit the bill.
Still, each of the estranged college friends is odious in her own way: Wealth-obsessed Veronica, who has a place in Soho (“and a little place in the Hamptons”), discourages her son from pursuing his budding talent as an artist, whereas Ashley, who “of course” lives in Bushwick, struggles to make people take her morbid art seriously. Can’t anyone see that she’s just “expressing the collective dread of the country” as its new president embarks on another Middle East war? “Don’t we need insanity to pull us out of our current insanity?” she says, trying to justify paintings such as the one of a decapitated sperm.
One has to ask whether this is a bit autobiographical, since most of Ashley’s paintings were actually created by Tukel, who is also a cartoonist. In one scene filmed at Bushwick’s The Living Gallery, Ashley imagines everyone looking at her work and chanting, “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Given that Tukel has actually shown at The Living Gallery in real life (gallerist Nyssa Frank even appears in the scene), you have to wonder.
But Catfight, as its title implies, isn’t so much a scathing critique of the art world or a damning satire of the state of America (though a late-night comedian does appear on TV throughout the movie to tell inane jokes about the war before ceding the camera to his sidekick, the Fart Machine.) It’s more a portrayal of femme-on-femme hate a la Sophia Takal’s Always Shine and Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth. But whereas those recent films reveled in the suspense of mounting passive-aggression between frienemies, it’s pretty clear from the moment that Ashley and Veronica bump into each other at a party that they loathe each other. It doesn’t take much to get them swinging fists in a Bushwick tire-fix yard– to the tune of Beethoven’s 5th, no less.
I won’t give away the central plot turns, since it would involve some spoilers, but let’s just say the “Comatose Doctor” at Mercy Hospital gets involved. That doctor is played by William H. Macy lookalike Dylan Baker, and there’s another delightful surprise as well: Tituss Burgess as an orderly. If you want to enjoy the wild ride that is Catfight just a little more, imagine that it’s his pinot that Sandra Oh is swigging as her life goes to shit.