Screen Rant’s Rob Frappier & Mike Eisenberg do a dual review of Catfish

One of the most buzzed-about films at this year’s Sundance film festival was the intriguing documentary Catfish. The film focuses on the story of a New York City photographer, Nev Schulman, who befriends a seemingly prodigious 8-year-old painter, Abby, on Facebook.

As Nev grows closer to Abby, who regularly sends him paintings of his photographs, he connects with the rest of her virtual network on Facebook, including other members of her family. One of these connections is to Abby’s attractive older half-sister Megan.

As Nev and Megan grow closer together through Facebook, and then through telephone calls and text messages, Nev’s brother Ral and his co-director Henry Joost begin to document the relationship. Eventually, Nev decides that he wants to meet Megan in person, but she is evasive. Soon, the trio begin noticing inconsistencies in Megan’s behavior, so they set out on a trip to the tiny town of Ishpheming, Michigan to seek the truth.

It is best if we leave the plot description there. Suffice it to say, the film and its stranger-than-fiction story has set the Internet ablaze with discussion. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the film has achieved uniform critical praise. While many reviewers enjoyed the film, many others did not. Here at Screen Rant, we have one of each.

I, Rob Frappier, saw the film and thought it was excellent. My colleague, Mike Eisenberg, saw it and didn’t enjoy it at all. So, rather than only  giving you one review to read, we’re giving you two. Enjoy them both (be advised that there will be some unintentional SPOILERS in our reviews) and make your own decision about whether you will go and see Catfish this weekend.

Rob’s Review – 4.5/5 Stars

I went into Catfish knowing virtually nothing about the film – and boy am I glad I did. If you have seen any advertising for this film, you will undoubtedly expect a different movie. The trailers suggest something akin to a real-life horror story. They’re not entirely wrong, but they’re misleading. Besides, Catfish is so much more.

In my opinion, there hasn’t been a movie this year that has delivered as much suspense, humor, and heartbreak as Catfish. Furthermore, without going deeply into the central mystery of the film (knowing as little as possible is the way to go), I can also say that no movie to date has approached the ups and downs of living in the ultra-wired world of Facebook, Google, and YouTube as intelligently and provocatively as Catfish does.

We rarely think about it, but we live in a world straight out of science fiction. Sure, there are no flying cars or personal robots (yet), but just consider the Internet. In fractions of a second, I can send a stupid cat video to fellow Screen Rant writer Ross Miller…in Scotland. Every single day, millions of people use their mobile phones to share their up-to-the-minute thoughts with the world on Twitter. Need directions? Google not only gives you the address you’re looking for, but satellite photos to boot.

And then there’s the big boy of the social networking world, Facebook. Facebook – with its more than 500 million users – has helped to usher in a new era of social interaction. With nothing but a picture, a short biography, and a handful of likes and dislikes, it is possible to create an approximation of your actual personality. Factor in the way you interact with friends and family, as well as the links and content you share on your Facebook wall, and suddenly the digital version of you starts to become much clearer. In a sense, it becomes who you actually are, at least to the mind of a stranger.

That’s where Catfish makes its most fascinating discoveries. Search engines like Google have made it infinitely easier and faster to access information. On the flipside, social media has given us the ability to create our own version of reality. So, how can you tell if the person on the other end of your instant message, text, tweet, or wall post is actually who they say they are? What compels us to reach out to strangers online? Can online relationships provide the same level of emotional satisfaction as “real” relationships?

Some people have criticized the film for being inauthentic, calling it a faux-documentary. I understand their complaints. The way that events unfold certainly strains credulity, but even if it were partially staged (and for the record I don’t think it is) that doesn’t make it any less compelling.

I think that many people have a limited view of documentary film. They are often thought of either as agenda-driven films – such as the docs of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock – or simply informational films, such as March of the Penguins. In Catfish, we see something different: this is a mystery film. Things occur in ways that we could never anticipate or expect. It feels like a narrative film, but it isn’t. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all the more reason to see it.

I will need to see Catfish again to cement my feelings, and to speculate further just how much the three guys really knew about what they were getting into, but I think that when all is said and done, this movie will be considered an important touchstone of the Internet generation, and one of the most memorable documentary films in history.

Read Mike Eisenberg’s “Thumbs down” review of Catfish

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