Due to my addiction to ESPN’s stalwart “30 For 30” series, I probably watched more documentaries this year than in all my years prior combined. I’ve usually ignored the ones that blow through my local multiplex, figuring that I’ll catch them on DVD later (or at least convince myself that I will). Catfish was the first doc that I actively sought out.
I hadn’t planned to see it at first. It was marketed as a Blair Witch-style horror film, for some reason, an advertising angle that couldn’t be further from the truth. Then it was advertised as a cinematic shocker, a movie with such a stunner of a final twist you should feel free to kill your best friend if they let the details of it slip to you. And sure, there are some surprises in the movie, but they’re all of the “the main character doesn’t know what’s happening, but now the plot’s moving along and he’s learning things and here’s the final confrontation and now the movie’s done” sort of surprises. A dead Bruce Willis doesn’t pop out of the wall or anything.
What actually lured me to the movie was the thing that drives anyone to a movie – people telling me that it was great and that I should see it. I saw it, and it was.
The film follows a twenty-something photographer named Nev Schulman, living in New York City, who develops a friendly correspondence with an 8-year-old painter in Michigan via Facebook. Their relationship spreads to her family, including the girl’s mother and older sister, the latter of which Nev starts dating via phone calls, text messages, and the like.
Nev lives with a pair of filmmakers, who begin to film him, ostensibly in order to explore the way social interactions work over the internet. But as Nev’s relationship with the sister develops, things start to become…. well, I better leave it there. Lack of twist ending or no, I’m not going to spoil anything, in case you were exposed to its ad campaign and this review tempts you to rip out my intestines with a butter knife.
What I liked about this film is how remarkable the story we’re watching unfold really is. It’s so unlikely that Morgan Spurlock congratulated the filmmakers after the screening, calling it “the best fake documentary he’d ever seen.” Even the filmmakers admitted that they stumbled on this movie almost entirely through luck.
I felt the same as Spurlock, that the situation seemed almost too perfect to have really happened. Could something so odd really have taken place with cameras rolling to watch it? In this age of cell phone cameras and constant self-promotion, I suppose it doesn’t seem all that unlikely. And as bizarre as this story of Facebook lies is, it’s not that much stranger than ones I’ve heard, or imagined myself. Sometimes the strangest thing you can think of is the thing that actually happened.