Years ago, I read James Frey’s controversial book A Million Little Pieces. By the time I picked it up, Frey’s “nonfiction” memoir had been exposed as a partial hoax, so I knew what to expect. But you know what? Had the publishers simply marketed Frey’s book as fiction, I think it still stood a good chance of becoming a bestseller. It was that good.
Similarly, Catfish is documentary that has fallen under intense media scrutiny. Is the film real, or an elaborate prank? Either way, it’s a gripping detective story and an insightful examination of the new social media.
Catfish depicts the strange odyssey of young New Yorker Nev Schulman and his Internet relationship with a mystery woman living in rural Michigan. As the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that a gigantic con game is afoot. But who, exactly, is being conned — cocksure Nev and his two pals, who just happen to be making a movie? The audience? There is something disingenuous about the New York boys, who were the beneficiaries of some amazingly good luck and coincidences in the course of making a seemingly mundane film.
The Social Network is the buzzed-about film of the year, and it’s often referred to as the “Facebook movie.” It is not. It is a film about business, friendship, and betrayal; the Internet is merely the background to the story. The real “Facebook movie” is Catfish. Every facet of new technology comes into play: GPS, text messaging, Facebook, and cell phones. But so does the dark side of our brave new world: identity theft, digital alteration, and the loss of face-to-face communication.
The irony is that while the audience watches someone getting his chain yanked in Catfish, it has to wonder if it’s being played itself. Or, as Ariel Schulman says to his brother Nev, “We don’t know how much of it’s bullshit. And they don’t know how much of it you know is bullshit.” Grade: B+
Directors: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost Featuring: Yaniv Schulman, Angela Wesselman-Pierce, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost Release: 2010
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