Catfish: A Poignant Portrayal of Human Connection

24 09 2010

Catfish has had the web abuzz in recent months, thanks to a clever marketing campaign and an attention-grabbing trailer. With the tagline “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is,” Catfish promised twists and turns, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the documentary genre. Because I don’t want to ruin any part of the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, as I’m going through the review, I’ll post warnings when a spoiler is ahead. I thought about trying to review the movie without spoilers, but it would prevent me from talking about the meat of the film, so spoilers will appear below. Here’s the breakdown (spoiler free):

Nev is an aspiring photographer living in New York City. One day he receives a painting in the mail, a painting of one of his published photos. The artist is an 8 year old girl named Abby, who lives in Michigan. They strike up a friendship via Facebook. Nev gets to know her family, talking to her mom, Angela, on the phone, sending her photos for Abby to paint. Nev eventually starts a long-distance romance with Abby’s older sister, Megan. What follows is a fascinating exploration of how humans connect, both online and in person.

The Monkey: Nev has a great screen presence. Since he’s the focus of the documentary, he’s usually the only one on camera and his great personality makes the movie watchable.

Catfish builds nicely, moving at a steady pace through the story without dragging, and despite the very simple premise, the audience is completely engaged throughout the film. It’s also self-aware, pointing out possible plot holes and inconsistencies, curbing audience skepticism and eye-rolling. It should be noted that many suspect Catfish of being staged. But I think it’s a testament to the filmmaking that I don’t really care. The story was worth telling and is worth experiencing either way.

The heart of the movie is in the last 40 minutes. SPOILERS AHEAD. As Nev begins to suspect the veracity of his internet friendships with Abby and her family, he decides to visit them in Michigan. What Nev finds is incredibly fascinating, and even a little bit unsettling. Angela’s daughter Abby doesn’t paint. Her daughter Megan is nowhere in sight. It’s all been a lie. But it’s how the film deals with this revelation that is so inspiring. Instead of portraying Angela as a wacked-out creeper, Catfish humanizes her in a way that makes her a sympathetic character. She is a hard working mother of two mentally handicapped sons, who abandoned her dreams of dancing to take care of her family.

Angela’s heart-felt confessions are poignant and make you really think about how humans connect in today’s society. With the internet so easily accessible, and diversionary and fantastical escapes available at the click of a button, is Angela’s form of escapism any different than Farmville or Hulu? Catfish asks these questions without feeling the need to answer them. But don’t get me wrong, Angela’s charade is definitely a bit creepy, and the movie makes sure to point that out, however gently. The story is able to balance the fine line between sympathy and creepy exceptionally well, making for a truly emotional and lasting movie-going experience.

The Weasel: While Angela’s feelings and motivations are sufficiently captured on film, Nev’s reactions are less so. He seems weirded-out, a bit sad, a bit foolish at being duped. Even at the very end he seems a bit melancholy, as if the whole ordeal aged him, matured him. But this is all a guess. He never really reveals to the camera what he’s feeling. It’s this sudden shift of protagonist that is most jarring. For the first half of the movie Nev has been the centerpiece; suddenly, once Angela enters the picture, he’s put aside, no longer of interest. But this does the movie a disservice. It’s Nev that draws audiences into the picture to begin with – it’s cheap that he gets ignored in the latter half of the movie.

The biggest problem facing Catfish is the marketing campaign. The trailers and advertisements have billed Catfish as some kind of thriller; in fact, the trailer makes it out to be a horror film. Undoubtedly, people will be disappointed with the ending, based on the trailer, which is too bad, because the movie is worth seeing on its own merits, without needing a sensationalized marketing campaign.

A beautiful movie that examines facets of the human condition often overlooked. A respectful, yet revealing look at loneliness and human connection.

4.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Is Catfish real or fake? Do you care? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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7 responses

24 09 2010

Catfish not showing near you? Demand the most exciting film of the year to your theater here from IAMROGUE

24 09 2010
Cassandra Okamoto

I am seriously SO glad I did NOT see the trailer before watching the movie, it seriously would have changed my experience. Besides that, I LOVED this movie. Thank you again so much for taking me to see it 🙂 Now if only I could stop having dreams about Nev…. 😉 ha ha ha

2 11 2010

Hey Dustin! nice post. It was interesting to read your take on the film. Definitely a different outlook this time around from mine! haha. Couldn’t get over the advertised feel/plot of the film. Wish I hadn’t seen the trailers first, but then I prob wouldn’t have gone to see it. I posted my review on my site. Would love your comment.

Also, I put up a very fun poll on my site today. Here’s the link. Vote if you’d like. I hope you enjoy! Thanks for stopping by, man!

3 11 2010

Thanks for the comment! Just returned the favor…and I totally voted for Professor X – Best. President. Ever! (Besides Yoda 😉 )

26 01 2011

I saw this the other day and absolutely loved it!!!
The fact that the whole thing could be fake doesn’t really change the fact that it’s a gripping story with a strong and yet subtle message.
I really liked it!
Check out my review on my blog when you have a sec.
take care

27 01 2011

Thanks for the comment, and I totally agree – whether it was real or fake, the story was so engaging!

5 03 2011

The film begs lots of questions about how, and when, it became clear any of this was worth documenting, but it certainly was. I still don’t know whether this was real or not, but despite that all, I was still interested while watching this. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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