February 17, 2011

Justify My Netflix: Catfish

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Catfish

Today's movie: Catfish, 2010 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this suddenly hot indie documentary has a premise so unbelievably great, many people have accused it of being completely made up: young New York photographer gets a nice shot published in a New York newspaper and then online; he receives a painting of the photo in the mail from an eight-year-old girl in Michigan, surprisingly good for her age; the two plus her family form a friendship over email and phone, including the photographer falling for the girl's hot twentysomething sister, the whole thing now starting to be documented by the photographer's young filmmaking brother; after dozens of paintings, photo exchanges and phone calls, one single slip one night suddenly makes the guys realize that they're the victims of a ridiculously elaborate "JT Leroy" type scam; but instead of terminating things or contacting authorities, they decide to drive to Michigan and surprise the perpetrator with their cameras rolling, which is where the movie becomes truly fascinating and unforgettable.

The reality: WOW. And I have to say, this is yet another case of a great indie film's biggest enemy ironically being the very marketing team hired to promote it; because despite the heavy-handed thriller-type way the trailer and ads have been edited, this movie is not really about the surprise of the scam itself, with it pretty easy to guess very early in that something very fishy is going on, and with the mastermind behind the scam literally outed with still a good 45 minutes of the film to go. No, it's instead that the filmmakers took a sympathetic view towards the woman, and with her permission did an extended look at the circumstances behind her life there in small-town lower-class Michigan, which like I said is where the movie truly becomes worthwhile and even heartbreaking; because we see just what a series of disappointments and failures this woman's adult life has been, a onetime aspiring dancer who got pregnant young, blew up into obesity afterwards, and quickly got stuck in a caretaker life with a hillbilly husband and his two severely retarded sons from a previous marriage, of how a simple thing like one day posing as a little girl when sending one of her paintings to someone she admires, which then receives a heap of praise, could combine with the pure hopelessness of her real life to spiral into legitimately crazy territory, one where the woman would eventually own a handful of different phone lines and maintain a dozen fake Facebook accounts just to keep the facade up as long as possible. As such, then, it's easy to see why people have accused this film of being simply too good to be true; but as someone who's now seen it himself, I believed the entire thing, and am confident that it's simply a case of an incredible situation randomly occurring to a group of young, smart, highly talented filmmakers who were coincidentally just itching at the time for a fascinating project to take on. One of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time, precisely because of the sensitivity the filmmakers bring to their approach, and it comes highly recommended to each and every one of you.

Worth your time? My God, yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:19 AM, February 17, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |