Ever since the documentary, Catfish, made its debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival audiences have been attempting to decipher whether or not the film is fact or fake. Some insist the events that take place in Catfish are real. Others think the film is merely a hoax along the lines of contrived mockumentaries such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Even the theatrical trailer seems confused, stating that the film is "Not based on a true story," "Not inspired by true events," "Just true." As I walked out of Catfish I didn't much care if what I had just witnessed was real or staged. I was just happy it was over.
The alleged documentary follows a man named Nev Schulman, who starts a relationship with a woman named Megan via Facebook. His filmmaking brother, Ariel Schulman, and friend, Henry Joost, follow Nev and Megan's relationship for a nine-month period. Throughout that time Nev and Megan have numerous intimate conversations over the Internet and on the phone. The young and attractive Megan claims to be a songwriter. But when Nev finds a YouTube video identical to a song Megan claimed to have composed, he starts to think that he's been played for a fool. Nev and his buddies set out to unravel the mystery that is Megan.
Social networking websites have become embedded in our culture and are here to stay. The phenomenon of Facebook is an especially fascinating topic for a movie. Whether or not Catfish is reality or fiction, the film does occasionally find truth in discovering people over the Internet. A lot of people have undoubtedly been in the same shoes as Nev, distraught over whether the woman he has been talking to is even of the opposite sex. As a short subject, Catfish might have been a thought-provoking cautionary tale about Internet relationships. By trying to stretch the material into a feature, though, Catfish feels repetitive and never takes off.
Much of the movie's hype has been surrounded by its final 40 minutes in which a twist occurs. I will not give away this twist for your sake. Although I'd be lying if I said that I didn't see every plot point coming from a mile away. Catfish never figures out where it wants to go beyond its 60-minute point and simply plays the same note over and over again. By its conclusion I hadn't come to sympathize with anyone.
While I cannot bring myself to recommend Catfish, I won't be entirely surprised if my opinion is in the minority. A fair percentage of the audience at the advance screening I attended seemed to have a favorable reaction toward the film. In that sense, Catfish kind of defines Facebook. Many will find it hard not to become engaged in the movie while a handful of people, such as myself, will just find it to be an enormous waste of time.