This week I was invited down to 20th Century Fox, Soho Square, for the Press Screening of a documentary by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman and Nev Schulman. It would turn out to be both unsettling and funny, heartbreaking and affecting, utterly engaging, and ultimately a suprisingly compassionate film.
It’s not often you get out of a screening and immediately set out texting and tweeting in an attempt to urge your friends/virtual friends to go and see a film. In this case it wasn’t merely because Catfish was a such captivating and suspenseful experience, but it brought up so many relevant areas of discussion about modern times, ones which I was eager to discuss . So insistent that people experience the film minus prior knowledge of how the story develops, I have done everything in my power to prevent them for researching and absorbing the occasional cynical view on the film.
You would be hard pushed to find a film that tackled more topics fitting to myself and my everyday life. The communication and and development of relationships via social media/internet is something that I ponder frequently. I spend a large chunk of my day posting and conversing via the internet, work and socializing, and many of my most important relationships have spawned from an initial contact on one of the networking mediums, which have then been cultivated or accelerated by the various tools of communication. I have at times questioned the significance of relationships formed via these methods, can you ever know someone enough using the likes of Face-book, Twitter, Skype, Aim etc ?….. More importantly, am I too trusting? This film completely justified my unease…
Here is where I try and avoid detailing the incredible twists and revelations that litter the film……but if you haven’t seen the film already I beg that you read this once you return from the cinema!
It starts with some very apt graphics of Facebook and Email, alongside pixelated images of an extremely sweet looking young girl who we would get to know as Abby, the talented painter. With minds tainted by all sort of real life stories relating to children and the internet you can’t help but think that this film may reveal a sinister edge. It is soon revealed that this is not the direction the film is going in, it is a far more unimaginable tale….. The use of close ups of emails and google maps are extremely successful in narrating and linking the story together and give the film a polish that is lacked by the main bulk of footage. While extremely accomplished in storytelling, it is quite intentionally less than slick in terms of its quality. This is by no means a negative observation. By balancing cameras on dash boards or holding them rather unsteadily with varying quality of grain, the film maintained pace throughout, it also ensured they got some of the unpredictable moments so integral to this amazing story, with the realness sucking us in further, keeping us enthralled throughout.
The were points during the film where you feared it could become a cruel and callous mickey-take at the troubled and less fortunate, a witch-hunt of a real life freak show if you will. Thankfully, in the hands of these particular filmmakers it was carefully detoured away from this all- to- frequent documentary pit-full. It is unclear whether it was merely a testament to their kind nature, knowledge of what would make a good feature or due to the extensive period of communication Nev had some real feelings invested in the family (perhaps an amalgamation of all three ). Their wise steering stops it from being a sickeningly distasteful film whose overriding message is to embarrass, in fact it is a thoroughly fulfilling and emotional film.
What’s particularly successful about the film is how many contrasting feelings and opinions it stirs you, as well as its stars, to have in its duration. After the truth starts to unfold you find yourself pinning words like ‘nuts’ and ‘crazy’ to Angela, you even fear for the filmmakers safety when they continue to spend time in the company of the Michigan family. Once you witness the life the family leads you gain an understanding as to why someone might want to create an imaginary world, in turn finding yourself increasingly sympathetic to the behavior.
Although you are desperate for it to happen, you feel sad for Angela when Nev bravely reveals his knowledge of the massive deception that has been taking place. Thankfully the way he carries out this pivotal moment is extremely calm and sensitive, his gentle demeanor endearing him to us.With his careful handling you can see why Angela wanted to make amends in some way and allow filming to continue.
While it is obvious that angela has some feelings towards Nate, whether it be infatuation, a crush or misdirected love, connoted through the extended looks and the numerous compliments on his facial features when she sketches him, the main draw for constructing the web of lies seems to be Escapism. She speaks of her dancing dreams, ones which were never fulfilled, how the characters she created gave her an opportunity to become what wanted to be and gave her a life away from the stark grimness of reality. It was a wise decision for Angela to allow them to film her justifications and teary outpour. Not only did they make the films journey feel extremely worthwhile, she was no longer a villain of the piece, someone to be laughed or pity, she spoke of feelings an audience could very much relate to.
It would be easy to miss this facet after you have witnessed the overwhelming and heart wrenching conversation between Nev and Angela. While at times our reluctant star Nev talks flippantly about his faux romance with Megan to his brother and Joost, laughing as he recalls some of the missed clues, his giggles are tinged with nervousness, there are telling looks and several moments where he questions his main part in the feature. It is clear this journey had had a notable affect on him too. You can see from his giddy smile when speaking on the phone with ‘Megan’, a form of communication more human than email and Facebook and more conducive to creating an emotional connection, it is clear that he developed some deep feelings for the person he knew as Megan. Although masked well at times, you can see glimpses that he has suffered from this process too, he has not just lost a friend, but the hope of a potentially life changing romance…… some form of grieving is inevitable.
As well as feeling intense sadness for Angela , I found myself worrying about the little girl Abby. By all accounts Angela is an incredible women, who spends all of her day tending to the needs of her children/stepchildren. While on the most part Abby seems an incredibly well adjusted girl, some of the events captured in this film are bound to affect a young mind. While possessing all the beguiling naive charms of being an 8 year old girl, one who enjoys the carefree activities of playing with friends and running into the sea, there is a maturity in that she is obviously aware of her mothers fraudulent ways. With much time undoubtedly dedicated to caring after the severely disabled twins compounded with the lies that she has been expected to ignore or play along with, you can’t help but wonder how she may be affected in the long term.
Well, I could go on and on, but I have already rambled on too much. What I will say is… GO AND SEE THIS MOVIE!! It’s a big claim I know, but alongside The Social Network this might be my stand out film of the year. It had humour, emotion, shock and probably the most successful outcome of any form of art… it’s got people talking…