Friday, September 24, 2010

The Other Facebook Movie

The new film Catfish raises a few questions. Among them, which will be the bigger PR threat to Facebook, this movie or The Social Network? And perhaps more importantly, is this film even real? That second question hangs over this entire film, a "reality thriller" (don't call it a documentary) about a guy who meets a girl and her family on Facebook and comes to realize they are not exactly as they seem. I don't want to spoil too much about Catfish because most of the movie's appeal comes from watching things develop. But suffice it to say, where you come down on the "is it real?" debate definitely affects how you feel about the movie.

Catfish begins with New York photographer Yaniv "Nev" Schulman agreeing to let his brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost film him as he befriends an 8-year-old girl in Michigan named Abby, who has taken a liking to Nev's photos and who sends him a reproduction of one that she's painted. Then he's introduced to Abby's mother, Angela, and Abby's attractive older sister, Megan, who he begins flirting with and develops strong feelings for. They continue their long-distance relationship through emails, chats, texting, and phone calls — all documented by the cameras — but it's not until Megan's story begins to unravel fast and furiously that the three men decide to travel to Michigan and meet her in person.

Catfish is a very strange movie, and walking out of the theater I really didn't know what to make of it. Parts of it seem very real and parts of it just ... don't. If everything was on the up and up, then you have to assume that Nev, Ariel, and Henry would probably have walked away from the whole thing at multiple points. And some things that happen do so too easily and conveniently. But it's what happens in the movie's final third that stays with you and gives Catfish its real appeal — and much of its credibility. I won't say any more so as not to ruin it.

We all use social media sites differently — personally, I won't connect with people on Facebook unless I actually know them — and we've all heard stories of people meeting other people on the Internet, whether through an online dating site, social media site, or something like Craigslist, and how those people turn out to be not who they said they were. Catfish tells that kind of story in alternately creepy, fascinating, suspenseful, and heartbreaking fashion. I wish the film had been edited a little more tightly, and any person with common sense will question things before Nev does, but on the whole, Catfish is a compelling film that examines online identity in the social media age, and you watch it waiting to see what will happen next.

The filmmakers maintain that their movie is real (of course they do). I'd like to believe them, but I can't about everything. That said, proving how fake the movie is spoils the point, doesn't it? I mean, everyone knew Blair Witch Project was fake, but it still scared the bejesus out of audiences. So Catfish may not be totally legit, but I bought into it anyway. I'm giving the movie a B.

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