This documentary comes with a warning label straight out of Fight Club: the first rule of Catfish is that you don’t talk about Catfish. Of course this makes reviewing Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost’s provocative and strikingly poignant documentary rather tricky, but it’s a cracking marketing campaign!
To skirt around spoilers, Catfish is initially the story of 24-year-old New York photographer Yaniv (Nev) Schulman, who is affectionately bullied by his brother into sharing the details of his budding online friendship with an eager young painter, Abby. What begins with a few watercolours in the mail ends up with Nev becoming Facebook friends with the whole family and, 8 months later, as a pretty full on virtual romance between Nev and Abby’s 19-year-old sister Megan. The relationship is conducted through flurry of phone calls and flirty text messages, before a few curious inconsistencies see Nev travelling cross-country with Ariel and Henry to meet Megan face-to-face.
In the wake of feted and infamous mockumentaries like Exit Through the Gift Shop and I’m Still Here it seemed inevitable that Catfish would face similar scrutiny. Queries about staged scenes on the one hand, and concerns about exploitation on the other will no doubt continue to dog the filmmakers, who, at this stage at least, are resolutely sticking to their guns. So your best bet is to give them the benefit of the doubt, and let any questions that the film might raise mingle with the reflexivity it evokes in every Facebook fanatic viewer.
The true, almost nightmarish beauty of Catfish is the all too crystal clear mirror it holds up to its audience. In what could easily be called The Social Network 2.0, this documentary questions the nature of friendship in the digital age and the lengths we go to for tangible human connection. And for all the filmmakers’ youthful bravado, the answers Nev finds are an all too human jumble of awkward, uncomfortable and deeply affecting realities; truths that will leave you pondering just how fragile and fragmented we are in this small, virtual world of ours.
Australian release date: 26 January 2011