A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this documentary chronicles the friendships that develop between an 8-year-old painter and her Michigan family and the New York City photographer they befriend online. The movie delves into many of the issues intrinsic in Web communities like Facebook: the personas that people present (and how accurate -- or not -- they are), how relationships develop quickly, and how those friendships don't always have the same safety nets that real-life associations do. All of these issues are exceptionally relevant for today's parents and teens, so we recommend watching it together. Anticipate a little swearing, a few steamy text messages (read aloud), and some twists that may prove too heavy for tweens and younger.
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What's the story?
In 2007, New York City photographer Yaniv “Nev” Schulman receives a painting in the mail of one of his published pictures. It's by Abby, an 8-year-old girl from Ishpeming, Mich. In no time, they start communicating with each other through their art, sharing photos and paintings -- a friendship that Nev’s brother, Ariel Schulman, and his filmmaker friend, Henry Joost, start documenting with a camera. Soon, Nev becomes Facebook friends with Abby's entire family, including her mother, Angela, and her half-sister, Megan, a stunning 19-year-old dancer to whom Nev quickly grows attached. Through phone calls, text messages, and Facebook, their connection strengthens. Eventually the three New Yorkers decide that it’s time for Nev to meet Megan -- and the rest of the family -- face to face.
Is it any good?
It’s hard to discuss the potency of CATFISH without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that the film succeeds in illustrating the perils of online relationships without vilifying anyone. (Even those who, under other circumstances, might shoulder much of the blame.) Despite the movie's frequently grainy, shaky, and off-kilter footage, it manages to move forward with such momentum that we have no other choice but to ride along. And it perfectly captures what it’s like to live and love and learn online.
Yes, some viewers may suspect they know what’s around the bend within the first 20 minutes. And it’s true that the filmmakers, who are also characters in the documentary, at times come off as glib with their banter. But the way the movie twists -- and it may not be the twist you expect -- reveals so much about human nature and how compassion and wisdom lurk in places that you don’t always look. As one character explains when discussing why catfish is kept in the same vats as cod during transit, the catfish keep the cod agile. But just who is the catfish here, and who is the cod?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about online personas. Do they completely capture a person’s character? How can you tell what's true about who a person says they area online?
Are relationships forged online as authentic and full-textured as those formed in real life?
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