How do you review a movie which is so surrounded in secret, that simply revealing what the seemingly irrelevant title means will ruin the whole film?
By now most of us have heard of that suspicious little movie in which a twentysomething from New York City meets a Michigan family online and soon begins to have a “Facebook” affair with the family’s 19-year-old daughter. If you’ve seen the brilliantly realized trailer, then you know that’s just the beginning. What Catfish promises is thrills and shocks and scares. And ,dun dun duuuun, the truth.
After one of Nev’s photographs lands the cover of a New York publication, he soon receives a painting of his photo in the mail. It’s from Abby, a talented 8-year-old Michigan girl who sells her paintings for thousands of dollars. Nev’s older brother and friend, both amateur filmmakers, break out their equipment and decide to document the entire thing.
Nev’s relationship with Abby is sweet and tender, so no, the movie doesn’t take a To Catch a Predator turn. Through Abby, a ridiculously prolific Facebook user, Nev meets her entire family. Abigail, the young mom; Megan, the of-age sister with model-like looks; Alex, the musician brother, and several others.
Nev and Megan quickly hit it off, but something is up. He wants to meet - drive to Michigan, whatever - but she’s never game. She stalls and makes excuses and dodges most of his advances to actually take their relationship to the next level. You know, the actual meet-you-in-person level.
That’s about all I can say.
It’s obvious from the trailer that something happens that deters the course of the film. This is true. But it isn’t what the trailer leads you to believe. Catfish is, in no way, a horror movie. Nothing spooky happens. But, I feel it is necessary to hint at the fact that some of the people in this Facebook family are not exactly who they appear to be, but you probably already guessed that.
Without revealing the final third of the movie, which, I see no reason to; it’s hard to describe the moral dilemmas that the film raises. Which leads me to my next, and probably biggest point.
Is it real?
I have no idea. Much like Casey Affleck’s film I’m Still Here, we are presented a story in a way that appears to be 100 percent fact. Affleck recently admitted the exact opposite of his movie and while I appreciate the Catfish filmmakers fighting to declare their film as authentic, in the back of my mind, I keep wondering when the GOTCHA moment will come. As in, “nope, just kidding, it’s all bullshit.”
So let me say this: if it’s real, then it’s the work of three very skilled, very dedicated filmmakers who got very very lucky when they decided to film what started off as a meaningless correspondence. If it’s fake, then some of the “actors” deserve Academy Awards. One woman in particular, who I won’t name, delivers a “performance” that trumps anything Robert De Niro has churned out in the last 12 years.
But that’s only if it’s fiction. If it’s real, her “performance” is just plain sad. Not pathetic sad, but troubling sad. As in we feel for her. Because, fact or fiction, we really do. B+