Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Nev Schulman
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references
Running Time: 89
Date: 01/22/2010
IMDB

Catfish (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Losing Facebook

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the hot properties at this year's Sundance, Catfish is yet another documentary that bleeds through the lines of fiction and non-fiction, between amateurism and professionalism. It begins as an 8 year-old girl contacts Nev Schulman, a New York photographer, via Facebook to ask his permission to paint one of his photos. He later becomes friendly with the girl's mother, Angela, and with her sister, 19 year-old Megan, whose Facebook pictures are not unattractive. Nev and Megan begin an intense, long-distance relationship, including IM-ing, phone calls and texting. This leads to the inevitable, "let's meet." Filmmakers Ariel Schulman (Nev's brother) and Henry Joost decide to make a documentary about all this (which have led many to speculate that the first 45 to 60 minutes of the film have been re-created).

What they find when they visit Michigan is best left to viewers, but it's definitely fascinating and worthy of many post-movie discussions. However, it's not a horror film or a thriller as some of the ads might lead viewers to believe. And in fact, the big twist is hardly a twist at all. The best part comes after the twist.

Catfish is almost an accidental success. The filmmakers and their subject are not particularly interesting, and indeed, they can be kind of annoying. The filmmaking is amateurish and coy, and most likely cheated in some instances, without the audience being in on it. However, the filmmakers make an extraordinary discovery in Angela; again, I can't say much about her, but she quickly moves from a ridiculous small-town hick to a memorable tragic figure (far more memorable than the film's main subjects, incidentally).

Whatever the filmmakers may have missed or faked, though, they make up for with their canny choice of a title. The term comes from a story told by Angela's husband: on fishing boats, catfish are thrown in with the rest of the day's catch to keep the other fish on their toes, so to speak. The catfish stir the pot, and the other fish stay fresh and active for much longer. This homespun analogy may not apply to the movie, but it applies to Angela, and it pushes Catfish from an amateur accident to something worth seeing.

Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) co-produced, as did the ever-annoying Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 3).

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