Seen it? No? Get lost.
I’m going to try and keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but be aware it is hard to talk about a film like Catfish without giving at least a hint of the events this stunning documentary contains.
Sometimes marketed as “the other facebook movie”, Catfish tells the story of Nev Schulman, a mid-twenties New York City-based photographer who shares an office with his brother Ariel and his friend Henry Joost – the co-directors of the film. One day, out of the blue, Nev receives a message through facebook from Abby Pierce, an 8 year old girl from a small town called Ishpeming in Michigan. Abby is a painter and has done a painting of one of Nev’s photos. They begin corresponding regularly, with Abby’s mother Angela typing Abby’s emails for her. Soon enough, Nev is writing to Angela directly, and electronically introduced to an extended circle of family and friends including Abby’s 19 year old half-sister, Megan. Over a series of emails, texts and phone calls, Nev and Megan begin to fall in love. She sends him mp3s of songs she has written for him; he sends her photoshopped pictures of the two of them together.
Nev, Ariel and Henry specialise in filming and photographing dancers. The three are at a dance festival in Vail, Colorado when, prompted by some inconsistencies in what Nev has been told, they decide to make a detour to Ishpeming on the way back to New York. What they find there is not exactly what they expect.
While it is a staple of fiction, I can’t think of any other documentary that simply tells the story of two people falling for each other (if you can, let me know in the comments). Nev is an inherently likeable guy, though arguably naive. Other than his work, we don’t get much of an idea of his life or relationships before the events in the movie. He sometimes seems unwilling to continue with filming, but is cajoled and persuaded by Rel and Henry. I don’t recall if it is stated specifically, but it seems clear that Rel is the older brother who Nev is trying to please and live up to. As a younger brother myself I can sympathise with that, though I doubt I would be willing to drive 1,000 miles for his tacit approval!
All of us have two faces: the real one and the one we want the world to see. In this age of facebook, twitter, myspace and the rest, the difference between those faces has never been greater. We all present ourselves the way we want to be seen by others, whether that means a touched-up profile photo or a carefully written bio. Some people take this chance to reinvent themselves further than others, but since we are all guilty, who can judge? That’s what this movie is about, for me.
Released around the same time as Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop and Joaquin Phoenix’s “meltdown” I’m Still Here, this was swept up in the same “is it real?” controversy. The fimmakers stand by it. I think I believe them. Make up your own mind.