Catfish

Posted: May 5, 2011 by josheppard in Film, Telly
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In a nutshell: disturbing exploration of Facebook fakery

Popcorn rating: 4/5

There’s been much doubt about whether Catfish, a documentary about a Facebook relationship that proves to be not what it seems, is real or faked. Certainly the story seems too well-structured to be true at times: photographer Nev Shulman forms a Facebook relationship with Abby, a child art prodigy, and her family. His brother Ariel Schulman and friend Henry Joost decide to make a documentary about Nev, Abby and her family – and of course, when Nev begins to fall for Abby’s adult sister Megan over the phone, things only become more interesting.

Real or fake – I’m none the wiser – it’s compelling and sometimes heartbreaking viewing. Toughest are the moments where Nev meets Angela, Abby and Megan’s mother. Because oh yes, didn’t I say? Angela, a frumpy housewife nothing like her profile picture, made the whole thing up. Not only Megan and her network of wholesome all-American family and friends, but also Abby. Or rather, Abby does exist… but both her messages and her artwork are Angela’s. All of a sudden, those bold, striking paintings are just clumsy and naive.

The tense awkwardness of Catfish tips into chilling at times, particularly when Nev and Angela meet. Nev is aware that she’s a lying fantasist, but hasn’t let on. The skilled aplomb with which Angela continues the subterfuge is borderline sinister. Is it possible she honestly believes the people she’s invented are real? But just as I was wondering when the Facebook fabrications would start ‘talking’ to her and telling her to kill people, Angela finally comes clean.

And it all becomes desperately sad. It’s hard not to feel sorry for bored, unfulfilled Angela, married to the lumpen Vince and the fulltime carer for her severely disabled, incontinent, aggressive adult stepsons. It’s obvious to the point of being unwatchable that she’s irrevocably besotted with Nev and painfully aware that he’s out of her league. I also felt sorry for Vince, himself a victim of Angela’s dishonesty, and Abby, the unwitting cover for the whole deceit. Confronted with a total stranger, she’s expected without explanation to react to him like a close friend, which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Making clever use of the familiar visuals of Facebook, Google Earth and YouTube, this is a stylish and fascinating film. Genuine or not? I’m not sure I care. It’s all about fakery anyway; one more double-bluff won’t make a difference.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

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