Of love and loneliness online


on January 28, 2010 by Pam Grady

The relationship between a New York photographer and an 8 year old Michigan girl and her family, begun on Facebook, takes a startling turn in Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost's intriguing documentary Catfish. That the film is the subject of a bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival is not surprising. This is a film of warmth, humor, suspense and surprising grace, a crowd-pleaser for fans of personal docs, as well as anyone fascinated by the social and psychological ramifications of our increasingly virtual world, ensuring healthy box office numbers.

What makes Catfish even possible is that 24 year old Nev Schulman shares an office with his documentary making older brother Ariel and Ariel's partner Henry. So when little Abby Pierce contacts Nev on Facebook to ask permission to paint one of his photos and then sends him the accomplished finished product, the filmmakers are on hand to recognize a developing story. Abby, it seems, is a thriving artist in her community, her work eagerly sought by both collectors and local institutions. She; her mother, Angela; and 19 year old half-sister Megan (herself an artist and musician) quickly develop a Facebook and phone relationship with Nev, the story taking a new turn when he and Megan fall in love, albeit virtually.

That alone might have made for an engaging, if slight, movie. But then something happens that Nev and the filmmakers (who are themselves characters in the film) could not anticipate. How Nev approaches the situation with Abby and her family adds weight and resonance to a film that reveals the loneliness, isolation and even desperation that can lurk behind connections forged between strangers online.

Catfish is ultimately a poignant story but it is never maudlin, and for much of its 94 minute running time it is very funny. Nev is an engaging presence, blessed with a sunny disposition and an infectious sense of humor, and he is well-complemented by his sidekicks Ariel and Henry. What begins as a kind of conceit, following Nev's phone and Facebook communications with Abby and her circle, eventually transforms into a kind of mystery, but there is no mystery to the documentary's appeal as it traverses the virtual and real worlds to get to the heart of an enigma.

Distributor: TBD
Director: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
Producers: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling
Genre: Documentary
Rating: TBD
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: TBD


Tags: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling, Facebook, painting

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  • nataedwa on 22 September 2010

    Hi Pam, Just want you to know that an excerpt of this review containing a spoiler is on the Google Los Angeles showtimes page. Seeing that was very, very disappointing. Thank you for effectively destroying my enthusiasm to see a new movie. I'll be sure not to read this site from now on!


  • fiveuses on 29 September 2010

    Thanks for spoiling the ending...

  • asdfjkl on 10 October 2010

    Wow, good job spoiling the movie in your opening paragraph! You probably know that the first sentence is going to get copied across various movie review sites, so you did a good job by making sure the spoiler was at the very top of the review, not buried further down. Well done Pam! I shall enjoy the movie so much more, now that I know the ending. Thanks Pam!!

  • Justin87 on 17 October 2010

    You RUINED the entire movie with the FIRST sentence of your "review". Spoiler alert? This film marketed itself as containing a twist or surprise. I have been very excited to see the film until now. I have intentionally avoided all reviews and commentary on Catfish for just this reason. The first sentence of your review was on the Google showtimes page....and it spoiled the surprise for me. I will make sure to never visit at Google showtimes page or this site again. Pam should be fired.

  • Justin87 on 17 October 2010

    Pam is incompetent.

  • eberthr on 23 October 2010

    Get a grip, gang. I thought the first sentence was fine. In fact, it's the only thing that might get me to watch the movie!

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