Directed by: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Starring: Yaniv Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
As this year’s The Social Network has quite skillfully illustrated, the internet is a powerful thing. Even more powerful is its ability to establish relationships between previously unacquainted individuals in a matter of minutes, whether they’re neighbors or living on separate continents. While such a reality can often be beneficial for both parties, there’s always a chance that something could be amiss in spite of a blossoming and presumably uncomplicated online courtship.
In the case of amateur photographer Yaniv Schulman, something certainly is amiss as his persistence in assuring 8-year-old prodigy Abby’s success as a painter leads to a questionable partnership between himself and Abby’s half-sister, Megan. As Yaniv, his brother Ariel and close friend Henry Joost continue to document each and every interaction that takes place among Yaniv and this family of eccentrics, certain details come into play that question the validity of the entire situation, thus convincing the trio to embark on a road trip in an attempt to discover the truth behind the matter and put their suspicions to bed. Sadly, the answers they find surely aren’t what they were looking for.
According to Catfish‘s rather ingenious marketing campaign, a substantial amount of its appeal is said to reside within the film’s unsettling twist and consequently its reasoning behind the peculiar title. Although this is entirely true, offering up any sort of critique on my end becomes damn near impossible if I’m to truthfully stray from spoiling anything of value, which is precisely what I intend to do. This aside, I can assure you that from the get-go, Catfish remains thoroughly engrossing and surprisingly humorous while subtly shedding some seriously valuable light on the perils of human interaction via cyberspace and, ultimately, online dating. However, herein lies the following question: Is this a real documentary? In my own humble opinion, even if it isn’t, you’d be better off assuming that it is given how much more effective the approach manages to be in supporting its jarring emotional substructure.
In all honesty, the build-up leading to the crew’s disturbing discovery is infinitely more entertaining from an admittedly lighthearted standpoint, yet the second half of the film is equally efficacious as a cautionary tale reminding us to be wary of situations similar to the one Yaniv and the gang have endured. Even though the latter act remains appealingly poignant and aids the production by way of timeliness, the inherent mystery their initial discovery presents is essentially what’s easiest to appreciate, thus taking something this beneficial out of the equation almost entirely in an honest attempt to create an altogether original experience, which it does successfully. In short, you’ll either approve of the eagerly awaited reveal or, well, disapprove.
While not the better film, Catfish serves as a worthwhile companion piece to one of the year’s best films that chronicles the importance of the internet in regard to human relationships. Functioning as both a (supposedly) real-life mystery and an insightful look at an individual whose life arguably suffered at the hands of social networking, the film combines equal parts intrigue and immense believability to craft a documentary unlike any other. So, if your interest has been piqued by Catfish‘s unconventional self-promotion and the like, seeing it for yourself would probably be in your best interest if you’re willing to potentially cope with any discords that may arise on account of the startling twist. Just remember, “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is.”