Catfish is a movie that's gotten a lot of people talking over the past year. It had a big Sundance presence, and though it's being fiercely defended by its director and star as an honest documentary, many people who have seen the movie find that very hard to believe. Thus, the controversy. I am one of those doubters, and I really don't think I can review the movie without discussing the events in it, so I'm warning you now: Spoiler Alert. I'm going to talk about what happens in the movie. If you click through, you will read those words, and then you will know what happens before you see the movie. So don't do that and then yell at me in the comments. Do we understand each other? Good.
Catfish follows a New York photographer named Nev, whose best friend has decided to make a documentary about his correspondence with a little girl named Abby from Michigan who has been sending him paintings and drawings of his published photographs. Nev talks with Abby's mother, Angela, on the phone often, and gets to know the family through a multitude of self-portraits they send him and through their Facebook profiles. The little girl also has an unbelievably hot older sister (red flag!), so naturally Nev quickly falls in love with her, exchanges sexts with her, and has very brief, and honestly very suspicious phone calls with her in which she claims she's so tired she can't speak.
One night, this hot older sister -- who claims to be a singer songwriter -- starts sending him her songs. Long story short, Nev and his friends realize that the songs she's sending are just rips from Youtube, and are by many different artists. Their curiosity piqued, they decide to fly to Michigan on a moment's notice (no one does that) to hunt her down and confront her. Once there, they meet Angela, who looks nothing like her picture, and discover that it has been Angela behind everything -- the hot older sister doesn't exist, and the photos used were of some model in Canada no one knows; Angela has been the one painting all of "Abby's" art, and Angela not only created her fake profile and the fake hot older sister's profile, but dozens of other people's profiles so the original two fake profiles would have friends and comments on them. She also tells them she has cancer when they confront her, but that turns out to be a lie, too.
So the woman's completely nuts, and apparently acting out of a combination of a huge crush on Nev and a disappointment in her sad little life. Abby seems like a perfectly healthy kid (though she probably won't be, considering her environment), but Angela's husband is slightly mentally handicapped (though functional), and Angela's days are largely consumed by caring for her husband's two sons, who are severely developmentally disabled, or, as Angela describes it, "Just... really retarded."
Fake or real, the movie is enthralling, as it's short enough and fast-paced enough to keep you invested in what's going to happen next as Nev and co. start solving their little mystery. The way Angela's con is exposed is so brutal and juicy you just can't turn away, despite how horrifically humiliating and exploitative it is for her. Which brings me to why I don't believe it's a documentary for a second:
1. Why would Angela agree to appear in this? There's no possible way for her to come out looking anything other than sad and mentally ill... unless she was guaranteed to be revealed as a fantastic actress in a few months.
2. When confronted, Angela immediately admits to her lies, explains how she executed them and kept her stories straight, then doesn't hesitate to bare her soul in a ridiculously self-aware way as to why she did what she did. Anyone who's ever known delusional people and/or compulsive liars knows that they do not typically do those things.
3. Nev is hilariously naive. He just believed this hot girl for way too long despite a million red flags, and though I can accept that someone would do that, I can't believe how shocked he was that he was being lied to in the end. It was a very "What???? People lie???? On the Internet????" reaction, and yeah, Nev, people lie on the internet. Chris Hansen told us years ago. Also, our common sense told us, because we are adults and know that people are very often not truthful about things.
4. Angela's too awesomely weird. She's so crazy, her house is so weird, there are screaming disabled children everywhere, her husband's a little freaky -- that entire reveal is just written like a horror movie scene, and when is life ever that awesome?
5. No one would ever deem a guy opening packages every once in a while an interesting enough subject to make a documentary out of. It's just unbelievable to me that someone would just be like "Yeah, whatever, I'm gonna film your e-mails with this little girl" and then it just serendipitously turns out to be the most insane story of all time.
If Catfish is a fake documentary it's a very watchable one, and I applaud their work. If not, they're the luckiest bastards in the world. The latter isn't impossible, I just don't plan on being surprised if they change their story after the movie leaves theaters.
Did you see Catfish? Tell us what you thought! Then check out what else is coming out this fall.
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