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REVIEW: Catfish

See it. THREE STARS

Now, I want to spoil the life out of this movie. In reviewing it, all I can think of is spoiling it. But the entire experience is not knowing. So, I’m going to do my best to not give away any of the twists this movie has that are not in the trailer. Instead, this review is going to focus mainly on two facts:

  1. It’s unique.
  2. See it.

I walked into Catfish having seen the trailer once and only once. That is exactly how much I knew about this movie. The controversy surrounding this movie hinges on one question: is it real? My answer is simple: who cares? The facts are that it’s unique and you should see it. If it’s real, it’s a by turns touching, frightening, hilarious and painful story. If it’s fake, it’s an accomplishment in camcorder filmmaking for being the first film to have me doubting its falsehood instead of its veracity. With movies like The Blair Witch Project and The Virginity Hit, you know it’s fake going in. Catfish, I don’t know coming out of it. I still don’t know. And Catfish was unique enough to make me not care whether it’s real or not.

Yaniv Schulman is a photographer from New York, New York who focuses mainly on ballet photography. His work is quite good. That site also has his other work, if you want to see that. One day, he receives a painting in the mail by an eight year old girl named Abby from Ishpeming, Michigan. It’s of one of his photographs. It’s quite good, in an amateurish kind of way, and he’s sincerely flattered. Thus begins his correspondence with Abby and her family in Ishpeming, including mother Angela, dad Vince, brother Alex and half-sister Megan. His brother, Ariel Schulman, and friend Henry Joost also work in his office and are aspiring filmmakers. Smelling a story to be had, they start filming Nev’s interactions with this family–over e-mail, over iPhone, over Facebook. This movie isn’t an exposé about Facebook and people you meet online. It isn’t a cautionary tale. It’s just a tale. And as a story, as a movie, it’s unique.

Things I hate: people who misuse the adjective “unique”. Unique means something that shares no properties with anything else. It’s a binary adjective, like dead. Someone can’t be sorta dead or very dead. The same way, things cannot be kind of unique or very unique. Things are unique. Using that definition, I’ve seen a few unique things in my life. Quentin Tarantino is unique; no one has his love for cinema or flair. Neon Genesis Evangelion is unique; the plotting and characterization in that series is superb. Lost is unique; sure, science fiction shows have focused on characters before, but Lost made an art and a living off of it.

Catfish is wholly, entirely and defiantly unique. It’s real, it’s fake, it’s both at once. It’s at once touching, poignant, laugh-out-loud hilarious, alienating, frightening and one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had in a theater. You and I, we’ve seen a lot of movies. After watching Lost for six years, I have a lot of experience with calling twists. On a sidenote, I loved the finale because I didn’t see it coming, and if after six years, they can still surprise me, it’s a good movie. And that’s why I say Catfish is necessary viewing. You know the twist if you’ve seen the trailer, but that’s not the half of it. That’s not a fraction of it. Not even close. What is found in Michigan and what happens there is so contrary to the laws of filmmaking and storytelling that it has to be real/fake. It has to be fake/real. It just can’t be true/false after what I’ve seen there. It simply cannot be false/true.

Inception was unique, Scott Pilgrim was quirky, Avatar rejoiced in doing what everyone else had done, but doing it best. Catfish is. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. If it’s fake, it’s a work of genius and if it’s real, it’s a moment of brilliance. It simply is, peerless and undefined. Reading about House of Leaves, another unique thing I’ve experienced, the author mentioned that at the end of the day, genre is a marketing tool. That definitely applied to his book and it certainly applies in equal measure to Catfish.

Catfish has a myriad of genres and none at all. It’s suspense, camcorder horror, documentary, camcorder comedy, travelogue, tragedy, comedy, everything and nothing at once. At times, sitting in the theater, in mounting terror at what wasn’t happening onscreen, one of the three guys would crack a joke to blow off some steam. We all do that in real life. That’s not a tell that it’s fake, it’s just what we do to deal with stress. But, because you’re so stressed out about what’s happening onscreen, a lame joke becomes a gutbustingly funny double winder. Genre, with this movie, is expressly a marketing tool and nothing more. Is it a documentary? Is it fiction? Is it scary? Is it funny? Is it real/fake? Yes. It is all of those things. I say this only because people think that the studio’s reluctance to call it a documentary means it isn’t one. No, sadly, it means that in this social climate, in these times, nobody wants to see a documentary about a guy who goes to see a girl he met on Facebook. Studios want you to see this movie, so they’ll call it a thriller. Don’t go in expecting Blair Facebook Project. Go in expecting a guy goes to see a girl he met on Facebook. That’s what it’s about, after all.

People will also say that it’s fake because Yaniv and his buddies didn’t automatically google the people talking to them online. I got news for you guys: People are believing this movie is fake/real or real/fake thanks to blog posts. Thanks to IMDb posts. What no one has done is google Yaniv Schulman, or Ariel Schulman, or Henry Joost. I found Yaniv’s personal site and it wasn’t covered in promos for Catfish. That’s enough for me. We live in the age of credulity, believing all we read, and that’s really how you should view Catfish.

I’ve been waffling since I saw it over my star rating. Is it three stars or is it three and a half. I know it’s not a four star, but my mind seems determined to say that if it’s real/fake, it’s three and if it’s fake/real, it’s three and a half. It’s true. Isn’t that enough to know about it?

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Categories: Movies, Reviews
  1. Daniel Molloy
    September 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    FINE! I’ll see your movie.

    • September 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm

      YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

  2. March 6, 2011 at 1:11 am

    The film begs lots of questions about how, and when, it became clear any of this was worth documenting, but it certainly was. I still don’t know whether this was real or not, but despite that all, I was still interested while watching this. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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