In a classic case of filmmakers prioritizing their own pitch over the actual goods, Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost put Schulman’s toothy-grinned brother Nev front and center as he investigates his fishy long-distance Facebook crush. But the woman he tracks down holds interest beyond merely serving as the filmmakers’ big reveal: as a result, Catfish consists of an hour of drawn-out guessing games, and then a compromised half-hour portrait of a unique artistic individual worthy of a film in her own right.
It all begins with an 8-year-old Michigan girl, Abby, who makes paintings of Nev’s photographs. Bonding with her family through the wonders of social networks, New Yorker Nev falls for Abby’s sister. Odd deceptions make him suspicious, however. Cue a surprise road trip, as Joost and the brothers Schulman attempt to uncover the truth behind the family’s various status updates and Gchats (all too often, and uncinematically, thrown up on screen).
Nev is less charming than he and his filmmakers imagine he is (and doth protest too much about being the star). While the trumped-up suspense of promised revelations places the film in a now-familiar marketing niche, Catfish retains interest as an exercise in the confrontation of illusions, and as a depiction of the tensions between cityfolk creative types and the singular outsider performance-artist mother who turns out to be their quarry—and quite possibly the greater talent.