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Movie Review: 'Catfish' more Moxie than mainstream

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Editor's Note, Nov. 11, 2010: "Catfish" is set to run at the Moxie from Nov. 12-18, 2010.

Directed by: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost.
Starring: Nev Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Angela Pierce, Vince Pierce and Abby Pierce
Rated: PG-13

It's a cliché, to be sure, but truth really is stranger than fiction.

That's why documentaries have always been some of the most engaging and compelling films made. One couldn't make up the stories that are told in the movies “Crumb,” “Man on Wire” or “Nanook of the North.” No one would believe them.

“Catfish” is a fine entry into the documentary genre, but it may be too early to tell if that is an an entirely true statement. The film made a big impact at Sundance, but its veracity has been questioned by many a viewer and critic. Some think the whole thing is a hoax.

The filmmakers were questioned severely at Sundance 2010 and swore “Catfish” was, indeed, a real documentary.

I can't decide but don't really care all that much. It's an interesting piece of work and one that is relevant to the cyber-centric world of 2010. Some of the scenes seem a little bit too convenient to be actual film verite, but given enough time - and a few digital cameras - situations are likely to come up that can be used to tell one's story. Shoot 400 hours of footage and you can get 86 minutes that flow together.

“Catfish” is a hard film to write about, and there will be no spoilers here. I urge you not to let anyone tell you too much about the movie.

I will say that the previews tend to lead one to believe it's a somewhat different themed piece than it actually is. When I saw the trailer, I thought it was a faux documentary/suspense thriller along the lines of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity.” There is suspense, to be sure, but...

Nev Schulman, his brother Ariel and their friend Henry Joost are New York City based photographers/videographers who specialize in shooting photos and videos of dancers.

Like everyone these days, they are into social media networking for both fun, promotion and profit. They post many of their photographs on Facebook as samples of their work.

Nev receives a painting that is a beautiful interpretation of one of his photographs. It's from Abby Pierce, an 8-year-old girl who lives in Ishpeming, Mich. Nev is fascinated. He, Ariel and Henry think it might be a good kernel for a documentary and begin filming everything that relates to Nev and Abby.

A big part of that is correspondence on Facebook. Nev befriends not only Abby but her mom, Angela, and Abby's 19-year-old sister Meagan. Meagan has a number of pictures of herself posted on Facebook and is quite a beautiful young woman. Nev is a few years older than her and is quite good looking himself. He also seems to know it, which is one reason I never engaged with him all that tightly.

But Meagan likes him. Abby likes him. And Angela likes him. He gets painting after painting from Abby who is somewhat of a child prodigy. Meagan is talented as well and records songs written for Nev, which she sends him via e-mail.

Facebook contact leads to telephone calls and Nev talks to Angela and Meagan (their long-distance affair is getting steamier) but never to Abby. She's always asleep, at a friend's house or out with her dad.

The setup of “Catfish” is rather slow but eventually the plot gets thick.

The Schulmans and Joost are hired to shoot a dance recital in Vail, Colo., and on the way back to NYC, they have a brilliant idea (it's one that some viewers may suspect to be less than pure documentation). They decide to just pop in on the Pierces in Ishpeming.

Nev wants to meet Abby and see her paintings. He wants to meet Angela because she has such a great family, and he really wants to meet Meagan and see the horse farm she has just purchased.

What happens in Ishpeming is for the viewer to behold.

I liked the premise of “Catfish” - the meaning of the title is revealed at the end in a monologue delivered by Abby and Meagan's dad - but am not sure it's exactly what it claims to be. And I also found Nev Schulman to be a little more interested in himself than the film he was making.

“The Social Network” was about the invention of Facebook; “Catfish” uses the social networking site as an impelling force. One assumes, judging from Hollywood's bandwagons of the past, there will be more “Facebook films” coming along shortly.

That said, “Catfish” is worth a view. It probably won't be in Springfield long. It's currently playing at the Wehrenberg 16, and when it leaves there, it may show up at the Moxie. It's more Moxie than mainstream.[[In-content Ad]]


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