In Catfish, a girl named Megan meets a boy named Yaniv the new-fashioned way: She friends him on Facebook. Photos and IMs are exchanged. And romance blooms, as much as real romance can bloom between two young adults who’ve never met in person. (Nev — his nickname is pronounced Neev — lives in New York City; Megan and her equally Facebook-obsessed family are in Michigan.) Cool. But then Megan sends Nev some of her recorded music and — uh-oh — Nev begins to wonder whether Megan is who she says she is.
Catfish is the artful, slippery, at times downright fishy chronicle of what happens when Yaniv Schulman, a photogenic real-life twentysomething photographer, goes to Michigan to find out. The film is a vérité-style meditation on the construction of personal identity in the age of friending, sexting, and otherwise living life by one’s typing thumbs. But in ways its savvy young creators don’t control, Catfish is also an unnerving specimen of coolio narrative gamesmanship in which real life becomes just one big Facebook post. There’s a reason the film is billed as a ”reality thriller”: Since no one expects reality shows to be real, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost can evade pesky questions of what they knew, when they knew it, and how (not to mention why) they went ahead with their project.
Schulman is Nev’s older brother, an NYU-trained filmmaker who, with his codirector, has shot Nev as a protagonist-muse for years. Luckily for them, Nev’s story only gets weirder and more camera-ready when the lads encounter real, complicated, non-camera-wielding people on their road trip. Is the onscreen Nev the real Nev or a gullible ”character”? Does it matter that this self-centered experiment intrudes on the lives of others? IMHO: yes. In Catfish, the camera’s-rolling readiness to trawl for drama leaves a slimy aftertaste. C+