Catfish (2010)

Nev Schulman is a young photographer living in New York with his brother Ariel and mutual friend Henry. When his work draws the attention of Abby Pierce, and eight year old art prodigy living in Michigan, he starts up an online friendship which results in the young girl sending him her artistic renderings of a number of his photographs. Deciding to document the relationship, Ariel and Henry start to film as Nev is accepted by Abby’s family – eventually adding mother Angela, step-father Vince and attractive older sister Megan. As Nev embarks on a long-term relationship with Megan, and spurred on by the revelation that the Pierce family might not have been entirely honest with them, the trio decide to pay them a visit in Ishpeming.

Before I begin this review in earnest, paying lipservice to reactions I have spend weeks coming to terms with, I must warn those as yet unfamiliar with Catfish to stop reading here. Due to the nature of the film, and the twists and turns that the narrative eventually takes, it is impossible to review without – for want of a less flippant idiom – ruining the surprise.

Part of an unofficial trilogy of social networking movies released in 2010 – the others being David Fincher’s The Social Network and Hideo Nikata’s ChatroomCatfish once again spotlights the disparity which often exists between an online profile (in this case, Facebook) and the people that hide behind it. Less sensationalist or indeed sinister than 2005’s Hard Candy, Catfish nevertheless acts as a morality tale against taking what it displayed to you at face value. Whether completely honest or shamelessly staged – as some will no doubt argue – the documentary is a shocking, moving and undoubtedly important piece of filmmaking for the Fail Whale generation. Spoilers will follow. Seriously, uninitiated, go do the dishes or something.

As the Pierce’s numerous lies are debunked with a quick search of YouTube or Google, the sheer extent of their fabrications become staggeringly clear. Megan, or in fact any of her friends on Facebook, do not exist. Rather, they are fake profiles set up by mother Angela Wesselman who has been living out a fake existence online and has herself fallen for Shulman, with whom she has kept up a relationship through her fictional daughters’ paintings and loving phone calls.  Whether or not the narrative is portrayed precisely as it happened or is itself a fictionalised account of events is not relevant, the fact that it is so insightful, funny and utterly devastating speaks entirely for itself.

Catfish navigates an uncomfortably real knife edge with competence far beyond the filmmakers’ years, as it’s compulsively unfolding drama narrowly avoids exploitation. Aside from the filmmakers’ disbelief – a reaction shared unequivocally with their audience – Catfish is largely unjudging. Taking time to humanise Angela, the real power is a gutting coalescence of two simultaneous heartbreaks, as Nev is betrayed by his confident and Angela is forced to come clean, losing the life-line she has clung to in order to temper her own unhappiness.

Brutal, uncompromising and yet disarmingly heartfelt, Catfish is an endlessly engaging and phenomenally gripping piece of documentary filmmaking. More than its relatively novel twist, it is a thrilling mystery with enough character study to justify and reward repeated viewings as it portrays a woman in turmoil and the naive innocence of a generation of Facebook users. Catfish is, quite simply, required viewing.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

2 Responses to Catfish (2010)

  1. Pingback: May 2011 – I’m killing ‘em, I’m killing ‘em straight. « popcornaddict

  2. Pingback: Chatroom (2010) « popcornaddict

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