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Time Out New York Project: Issue #781, September 16-22, 2010
Dirs. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. 2010. PG-13. 94mins. Documentary.
The Sundance sensation Catfish comes to us with the postfest imprimatur of Universal (the logo similarly tricked out as in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Brett Ratner (credited as executive producer). It’s easy to see why Hollywood went wacky for it. This on-the-fly documentary plays like a how-crazy-can-this-get suspense film for most of its running time. We meet New York photographer Nev Schulman, brother of codirector Ariel, as he unwraps a painting of one of his images by a young Michigan girl named Abby. They become Facebook friends, which eventually leads to Nev’s online romance with Abby’s older sister, Megan. But as he comes closer to meeting Megan in person, Nev uncovers some unsettling information….
I’ll respect the studio’s wishes to abbreviate all plot description. God knows, they’re marketing it like the second coming of The Crying Game, though the revelations that await Nev are only shocking if you believe P.T. Barnum was really in possession of a genuine Fiji mermaid. What rankles about Catfish is the way it treats the person at the other end of Nev’s flirtation with feigned sympathy, turning that person’s tragically complicated life into faux-profound fodder for Generation Internet. You watch the film thinking what a true nonfiction artist like Frederick Wiseman or Heddy Honigmann might make of the material — certainly they wouldn’t indulge in such freak-show carnival barking.—Keith Uhlich
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