A documentary by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Rated PG. Opens Friday, September 24, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
Anyone who’s seen My Kid Could Paint That will recognize the warning signs early in Catfish, which documents New York photographer Nev Schulman’s oddly unfolding relationship with Abby, an eight-year-old Michigan girl who sends him paintings based on his pictures.
Watch the trailer for Catfish.
The fact that this “friendship” is based on random Facebook contact and quickly turns into a web of Internet connections, is cause for some suspicion on the viewer’s part, as is the recognition that Schulman is movie-star handsome with a proclivity for alternately moping and charming on camera. A simple Google search indicates that he is, indeed, a respected veteran of the dance world, and that his brother Ariel Schulman and pal Henry Joost—the makers of Catfish—have worked on many documentaries and short films.
This in no way speaks to the authenticity of their on-screen responses as Nev gets increasingly involved with Abby, her foxy older sister Megan, their mother, Angela, and other family members and associates—culminating in a squirm-inducing trip to Michigan. In the end, verification doesn’t matter that much, because the subject of the film isn’t truth or even truthiness (in Stephen Colbert’s epoch-defining coinage) but artifice as a way of controlling life.
By illustrating the brothers’ detective work with Google Maps, Google Street View, Facebook pages, and some nifty postproduction image manipulations, the filmmakers underline just how easy it is to construct and/or deconstruct competing realities in a virtualized world. Technology can always be harnessed for good or evil, of course, and now the same packaging devices can be used to hook up with hotties a thousand miles away or to help talk people into killing other strangers in trumped-up wars. At least we still have two choices: Confirm or Ignore.