“Catfish” is easily the best 2010 documentary I’ve seen and one of my favorite films of the year, period. Its subject is sad, creepy, and utterly human, and she lends those qualities to a thoughtful film that is deeper than first glance.
A photographer named Nev receives a painting of one of his photos from a talented young girl named Abby. Nev is astonished by the quality of her work, especially considering the girl’s age. Over a period of eight months, he forms a friendship with the Abby’s mom via Facebook and phone conversations. He forms an online relationship with Abby’s older sister, Megan, and starts to fall for her, desperately wanting to meet her. Nev’s two filmmaker friends capture the online romance as it unfolds and deepens. Then Megan sends Nev a song she claims to have written, but a simple Google search proves she is lying. The song is not original.
The intent of their film project and the nature of Nev and Megan’s relationship changes from that point forward. They know something about Megan is dishonest, that there is some fraud or deception that must be exposed. Nev goes from wanting to meet Megan to start a physical relationship to wanting to meet her to get to the bottom of something weird. It also doesn’t hurt that it adds mystery to their little film and makes it more exciting. Nev and his two friends set out to Michigan with their cameras to confront the family.
To discuss what they find there would ruin the second half of the film. I can tell you that the family they meet creeped me out and broke my heart. I watched the last 20 minutes three times and the last five minutes nearly 30 times, if only to hear the addictive finale song. The final shot of the subject throwing her hair back is brilliant. It almost moved me to tears. There are elements of horror to the film, but the real draw is the human drama. It is subtle filmmaking with hidden depth.
The authenticity of the film has been questioned, but I firmly believe these are real people who aren’t acting. Their “performances” are genuine, and their lives are too mundane, pathetic, and depressingly predictable to be the stuff of fiction. Someone dies in the movie, and it isn’t fake. To call it fake is to dismiss something you don’t want to witness, almost like whistling in the dark. You can question the motivations of Nev and his buddies, but that’s a separate discussion from the veracity of the film and its true subjects.
“Catfish” has been called “the other Facebook movie,” but it has more to say about social networking in the first 10 minutes than “The Social Network” did throughout. Social networking is an evolution of human behavior that has allowed me to form real friendships with people from around the world. However, for some people, the Internet and social networks provide a way to escape harsh realities. People often use movies for the same purpose—escapist entertainment—but I don’t advise approaching “Catfish” with that aim. If you can sit back, point, and cynically laugh at the subjects, you haven’t lived enough.
5 out of 5 stars