Dir: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010. Starring: Megan Faccio, Melody C. Roscher, Ariel Schulman, Yaniv Schulman. Mystery.

I don't know if Catfish is a documentary or not, but it doesn't really matter--the impression it leaves would be the same regardless. If all the action on screen is real, then it might be the most perfect set of natural circumstances to tell an emotional story with in history (which in itself should earn the directors some awards for capturing). If it isn't, then we have a cleverly written film containing some powerful acting performances that say something meaningful about how social networking can shape our love lives. Fiction or not, Catfish tells the truth.

Yaniv "Nev" Schulman is a photographer living in New York City. Shortly after one of his photos makes the cover of a major publication in 2007, he receives a painting of it from an eight-year-old girl in rural Michigan named Abby. He eventually receives e-mails from her, and within the opening minutes of the film becomes Facebook friends with her and the rest of her family and friends. But the online bonding gets a bit more intense with Abby's older sister, Megan. The two start sending each other flirty online messages, eventually even talking on the phone and casually addressing one another as "babe" in their text messages. Nev's brother Ariel, and his friend Henry, document the long-distance relationship. At some point, the filmmakers raise the question of online identity. From there, Nev finds himself in a mystery that's at once utterly realistic and too far out for real life--but who really knows what's going on in this film?

Catfish received a lot of attention for its marketing strategy--keeping the plot details of the film frustratingly vague, and hyping it up as the thriller to end all thrillers. Some left the theater feeling ripped off. The intelligent ones didn't. I support the studio and filmmakers for their actions; in some ways, it creates a meta-like experience that further hammers in the movie's point. I can't say anything more than that. I suspect few people would bother to see it if it was marketed more directly. I really want to, but I can't add anything more to that sentence.

For a film that largely tells a story over what happens through computers and smart phones, Schulman and Joost do a pretty remarkable job of keeping the film visually stimulating. Computer screen text appears and moves with the excitement of a car chase at times, and there's one sequence where the playing and comparing of MP3s reminds me of some of the more famous scenes from Blow-Up and The Conversation. The film uses the tactics of a mystery/thriller to provide an emotionally complex ending. The fact that the plot largely involves Facebook makes Catfish especially modern and relevant to our current technological climate, but through it all there lies a timeless theme on the nature of love and how we as people will go extreme lengths to seek it.

Am I still being too vague? You'll just need to experience it to understand.

Posted by:
Paul Losada
Jan 7, 2011 12:10pm
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