If anyone caught the network premiere of Catfish on More4 last night, they would’ve been given a harsh and often hilarious reminder of the certian perils of social networking and the potential pitfalls of finding love online. The documentary created by 28-year-old Henry Joost and 29-year-old Ariel “Rel” Schulman using handheld digital cameras follows Schulman’s brother Nev after he makes a Facebook connection with child prodigy Abby Wesselman and her eccentric family, including her creative and beautiful 19-year-old sister Megan.
What was initally intended as a sweet record of the shy photographer from New York’s burgeoning online relationship with Megan, Abby and her mother, soon turns into an engrossing detective story; as Nev becomes more involved in the family it becomes increasingly apparent to the three young film makers that things arent quite as they seem!
Things start innocently enough. Nev recieves painted copies of his own photos in the post from Abby, a little girl from rural Ishpeming, Michegin. They become pals via Facebook, Nev chats on the phone with Abby’s mum and begins a cyber relationship with Megan, at which point Rel and Henry begin filming the scenario from Nev’s point of view – they reckon the resulting film will be a great mememto for the couple, but when the group start to become suspicious of the Wesselmans, after Nev discovers that songs Megan claims she wrote for her beloved are taken straight off Youtube, a surprise trip to Ishpeming uncovers a twist in tale so bizzare that you couldn’t make it up! Or could you? (cue spoilers)
Since Catfish’s debut at the Sundance Festival, critics and audiences alike have been fairly dubious about the film’s authenticity as a documentary – given its incredible twist in which sexy Megan, her network of 17 Facebook friend’s and Abby’s artistic talent all transpire to be complete fabrications, labouriously created by Angela – Abby’s 39-year-old mother/bored housewife and carer, who suffers from schizophrenia and it seems is besotted with poor Nev. (the scene towards the end where Nev sits in a rocking chair chatting to Angela about the deception as she paints his picture and swoons over his smile is painfully hilarious!)
True or false (and I think I’m a believer here, whatever Morgan Spurlock might have to say on the matter) Catfish may begin as a seemingly intrusive look at online love but ultimately turns into a rather moving and haunting story of someone looking for an escape from a tedious life and the extent to which social media can be used, and sometimes abused, to obtain that. It’s certainly a far more candid and revealing look at how big a role social media and networking plays in our lives, with Henry and Rel incorporating Facebook images, status updates, Youtube clips and even Google Maps to chart the trio’s bizzare journey.
The experience doesn’t seem to have put Nev off looking for love on Facebook though (he met his current girlfriend through the newtorking site) and at the end of Catfish we’re told that he remains friends with Angela, who has started selling her artwork online. While all involved seem to have proffited from the film, its ultimately little Abby I feel sorry for – she’ll eventually grow up and learn of Catfish’s twisted tale and her mother’s oddball actions.
Still, I’d reccomend Catfish as essential viewing: a fascinating cautionary tale for the digital age!