19 December 2010

Catfish on the Table

I hadn't heard much about Catfish before I saw the movie this afternoon, other than that it was a documentary (or mockumentary?) based around an online relationship. I vaguely remembered that the said relationship was between the brother of one of the directors and a young girl and so my assumption was that the relationship was somehow inappropriate, which left me wondering why the protagonist agreed to let his brother film it. Anyway, Catfish wasn't at all what I expected. It was a funny film in both senses of the word and thoroughly engrossing, at least until the last 15 minutes or so when it felt like it had peaked too soon and lost too much momentum.

It's difficult to describe the film well without ruining its twists and turns. Nev Schulman is a dance photographer and after one of his photographs is printed in a newspaper, he receives a package from Abby, an eight-year-old girl and painter who has reproduced his photo as an oil painting. Nev's brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost think there could be a story to tell in this and over a period of several months, they document Nev's growing friendship with Abby and, later, Abby's family, including her mother Angela, brother and step-sister Megan. They all Facebook friend one another and after checking out Megan's photos and exchanging a series of racy emails and texts with her, Nev finds himself falling for her.

All, of course, is not what it seems and indeed, the strange family that Nev has allowed into his life is not at all what they seem and soon, something prompts Nev and the gang to go on a road trip to Michigan to meet them all in person. The dénouement initially pans out quite well but then, as I said, the film loses its way. There has also been a lot of discussion about whether Catfish is really a documentary or whether parts (or more) of it were fabricated or manipulated and whether, if it is real, any of the people portrayed were exploited for the sake of the film. I don't think it matters, from the point of view of cinematic enjoyment, whether or not Catfish is as realistic as it purports to be. The plot moved fast enough to keep me engaged and the audience at the Curzon in Soho laughed loudly and often but it was also thought-provoking; and that is often enough for me.

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