January 28, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 35°F


Diary-style approach focuses theme

While “The Social Network” won wide acclaim for its dramatized story of how Facebook was invented, the gripping documentary “Catfish” shows  the ups and downs of being logged in — and tuned out. It delivers an important message to a society that relies heavily on online interaction.

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost’s documentary displays the unclear meaning of online friendship in modern day society. They follow Ariel’s 24-year-old brother and successful New York photographer, Nev Schulman, after he starts a long-distance Internet relationship with Megan Faccio, a gorgeous musician from Michigan. But when Nev stumbles upon information that Megan isn’t really a musician, he uncovers a trail of lies that takes him to Michigan to find out how and why he was duped during the past eight months.

In “Catfish,” the anonymity of online interaction leads to deviant behavior. The filmmakers intended to portray Nev as a normal guy who becomes the victim of deceit. But the message is lost because Schulman is their only subject. How people cope with online deceit should have received more focus. Without more people to interview and study, the film falls short of its potential.

What makes “Catfish” stay afloat is the accurate portrayal of the emotional weight online relationships can carry. Faccio and Schulman’s correspondence helps to move the story forward and sets the documentary’s somber tone. The personal attachment Schulman feels toward Faccio is reflected in “The Social Network’s” message that the need to be connected all the time is strong and addicting.

Nev’s thoughts and actions are monitored throughout the entire film in a video-diary style. This consumer-video approach is decidedly non-Hollywood and makes it easy for viewers to relate to Nev’s state of mind. This diary-style approach makes for a stimulating viewing experience with the number of effects used throughout. A groovy sequence at the beginning of the film litters the screen with pixel-like dots. This backdrop mimics the false reality of online interaction. However, realistic cinematography does come into play thanks to high definition technology and well-framed action. While the documentary never feels as polished as a Michael Moore feature, it nevertheless packs as powerful a punch.

The fast-paced editing is perfect for members of Generation Y. The shots don’t linger for too long in any one scene, yet the film isn’t overwhelming to process.

What “Catfish” lacks is music to fill in for the lack of dialogue in certain areas. In fact, large portions of this documentary are pretty quiet, particularly when Nev travels to Michigan. Since it’s commonplace to surf the net while listening to songs, it only makes sense to add in some tunes to help strengthen Schulman and Joost’s vision.

Perception is everything, and it’s hard to decipher what’s real and what’s not when the only evidence is lit up on a computer screen. “Catfish” involves enough fresh, fast-paced and fun material throughout. By avoiding cookie-cutter clichés, it effectively makes naïve web-goers wary by the time the credits role.

“Catfish” was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.