Saturday, September 18, 2010

Movie with Abe: Catfish

Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Released September 17, 2010

This film has been shrouded in mystery during the run-up to its theatrical premiere and amid the many preview screenings held around the country. I’m always unsure of how much to tell people about this movie’s plot, and it’s certainly a difficult subject to write about without spoiling any of the alleged documentary’s surprising revelations. Yet it’s still worth trying, since, real or not, this film is likely to be talked about by many, if only for a brief time, especially with the nearly concurrent release of another suspected faux-documentary “I’m Still Here.” Do documentaries these days just not need to be verifiably true anymore? That’s hardly the only question presented by this twist-filled film.

The premise of making a movie like “Catfish” is definitely intriguing, and filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman were right to jump on the opportunity to document Ariel’s brother Nev’s Internet relationship with two young girls and their mother in Michigan. It’s a story that’s probably not entirely unique to Nev, though this specific instance is definitely much crazier than your average tale of someone meeting someone else online. While social change can often be the impetus for making a documentary, sometimes chronicling an enticing, genuinely interesting story can be the recipe for a compelling documentary.

“Catfish” boldly bills itself in its trailer as “Not based on a true story. Not inspired by true events. Just. True.” While many reasons to doubt that assertion have been compiled by numerous sources, it’s not completely relevant to the film’s quality. Without addressing the film’s conclusion, it’s possible to dock the film points either way. If the film does in fact represent reality, the way the conclusion is filmed isn’t terribly impressive or well put-together (the first half of the film is much stronger). If the film’s events are mostly fabricated, the creativity of the so-called documentaries doesn’t speak very well for itself since a wilder finale could have been concocted. In either scenario, the film doesn’t live up to the hype.

“Catfish” is the kind of movie that is best watched with an audience so that every minor realization and major revelation can be experienced to its fullest extent. It’s also best seen with others because it will be more enjoyable considering its pedestrian nature. Nothing about “Catfish,” and certainly not its title, randomly chosen from a peculiar and irreverent story told by one of the film’s subjects, suggests that this is a quality film. It may look at an interesting topic, but the merits here are purely subject-based.


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