A mini-review of Catfish, a 2010 documentary film.
I’m all kinds of naive, even at 55. I’m gullible, impressionable, a blank canvas on which others’ opinions help form mine. So I can fully believe that Nev Schulman, the vehicle through which we experience the duplicity and tenderness that make up Catfish, is totally taken in by the woman known as Angela Wesselman.
To tell you much more about Angela would really spoil the movie. As it is, I’ve probably spoiled some of it already. Catfish follows Nev’s blossoming relationship with Angela’s family, especially her two daughters: Abby, an eight-year-old painting prodigy, and Megan, a teenage beauty (we’re led to believe Megan is of legal age, so there’s no potential creepiness here — Nev appears to be around 19 or 20) who dances, writes songs, and works as a veterinary technician. A long-distance relationship develops between Nev and Megan, but throughout the first half of the film, they cannot meet, owing to the thousand-mile barrier between them: Nev lives in New York, and Megan lives in Gladstone, Michigan.
What happens after Nev and his film-making brother, Ariel, and Ariel’s film-making partner, Henry Joost, visit Colorado to shoot footage for a dance documentary is the part that contains the real surprise. The film-makers get glimpses of what’s to come when they finally begin Googling the Wasselman family members.
Some critics are calling Catfish a mockumentary, a fake documentary. One person even spent some time dissecting the film to catch all of the clues that show it’s fake. While the shell of the movie could have been fabricated or completely recreated, I believe that the core of the story, Angela herself, is completely true. I’ve met (and have sometimes been duped by) people just like her, both online and in person. You’ll know what I mean by the time the guys finally reach Angela’s house on their way back from Colorado. And you’ll nod in recognition.
If the entire film is a fraud, then I raise a toast to the Schulman Brothers and Mr. Joost. They are the catfish to the film industry, just as Angela is the catfish to their story. As Vince, Angela’s husband puts it, “There are those people who are catfish in life, and they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank God for the catfish, because we’d be droll, boring, and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.”