On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Loser

09/15/2010 4:00 AM |

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Catfish is MySpace profile as movie, multimedia package as feature film, a non—fiction narrative stitched together from techno—ephemera: screen shots of news feeds, Google Earth, and street views; tagged Facebook photos, text messages and YouTube video after YouTube video—crude, shaky, grainy, close—up quick—takes with Nev Schulman (the co—director’s brother), a charismatic if self—obsessed New York twentysomething. The movie documents his budding relationship with a family in flyover country: an under—10 painting prodigy, her hot mom and her even hotter older sister, for whom he falls, hard; the two spend hours on the phone between sexting.

But is everything about this family as they say it is? Nev (rhymes with “peeve”), his brother, and their friend Henry fly out to Michigan to drop in unannounced and find out. Smartly, Catfish has been marketed with intimations of horror, but the only fear exploited is the Internet’s original one: that your cyber interlocutors might not be who they claim to be. Who’s really on the other side of Nev’s sexts?

Merely a sad small—town mom using the ‘net to invent an idealized version of herself and family; she’s a Susan Boyle—type, hoping to tap into a reality—TV—culture that makes idols of outsiders, manipulating the web to invite attention, perhaps enough to pluck her from the depressing present where she lives in a cultureless backwater caring for disabled twins. The movie ends not with a bang but with a schmaltzy whimper. There have been accusations that Catfish is less than real, but I doubt it. It’s just really manipulated.

Opens September 17