There has been a glut of fake "documentaries" lately. I don't mean liberal propaganda pieces that dishonest folks - excuse me, fat lying bastards - like Michael Moore or Al Gore make and win Oscars for, permanently damaging the genre for REAL documentary makers in the process. I'm referring to movies like the Paranormal Activity series or the upcoming (and reportedly awful) Apollo 18 which comprise the "found footage" genre in which the audience is supposed to accept that what they're seeing really happened. (Or at least go along with the setup because, as Johnny Carson noted, "You buy the premise, you buy the bit.")
I've been avoiding watching Catfish because I haven't been in the mood for a fake shock doc which is sort of implied by the trailer and was leery of the "real Facebook movie" hype it has around it, playing off The Social Network. I may've totally given it the miss if my girlfriend hadn't watched it, told me it was good, and then started nagging me to watch it so we could discuss it. Persistently nagged, as in when we spoke on the phone earlier tonight and I was mulling my entertainment options, she said, "Why don't you watch Catfish? It's only 86 minutes long. I instead played a videogame until I realized I was sucking at it and gave into the movie.
It's impossible to discuss the events of the movie without spoiling the surprises, so all I will say is that you're not going to totally guess where it's going and that no one gets their heart ripped out. Literally. Figuratively, though...
Catfish follows co-director Ariel Schulman's brother Nev as he strikes up a relationship with a young girl, Abby, from Ishpeming, MI (pop. ~6700). An artistic prodigy, she paints renditions of his photographs and sends them to him in New York City. Nev speaks on the phone with her mother, Angela, and gets into a Facebook romance with Abby's sister Megan, a hottie with really good photos on her profile page. They talk on the phone, send hundreds of sexy texts messages and really seem to be falling for each other. Then Nev starts discovering that big chunks of Megan's story aren't passing the smell test, confusing him. Something is clearly screwy and looking to get to the bottom of the story, Nev decides to pay the family a visit in their remote Upper Peninsula town with the cameras in tow. What he finds is fascinating even though it's expected; he just didn't know how far down the rabbit hole went.
What makes Catfish odd is that it's like the Oscar-nominated fake documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop - I'm in the camp that believes the whole thing, including Mr. Brainwash, is an elaborate long con by real artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey - in that there's enough tugging around the edges to make it seem fake, but by the end it seems really hard for it to be anything but real, because if it turns out to be even a semi-hoax, there are some other issues with what's shown that should be addressed.
The opaque title is explained (somewhat) at the end, but what sticks is what the film says about relationships, connections with people who are supposedly our "friends," and the lengths some people will go to make these connections. I haven't read around yet to see what's supposed to be true or false about the movie, but I did see an IMDB thread that goes into heavy psychological analysis of the architect of this all and I think they're over-thinking it. (Write me after you see it and I'll tell you what I'm talking about.)
Sorry if this review leaves some basic elements out, but like EARLY M. Night Shyamalan movies, the less you know going in the more effective it will be. Suffice to say that this Catfish is worth catching (ouch!) and that if you mull over what it subtly implies, you'll probably want to stay in "meatspace" for companionship.
Score: 8/10. Rent the DVD.