By Rich Cline
This starts as a documentary about an offbeat online relationship before warping into something much more interesting. It essentially becomes a real-life thriller packed with outrageously amusing observations.
The title refers to a metaphor about how we need people around us who can keep us on our toes. Nev Schulman is a 24-year-old New York photographer who begins corresponding with 8-year-old Abby Pierce in rural Michigan after she painted versions of his photos. As Abby tells Nev stories from her family life, Nev's filmmaker brother Rel and his colleague Henry start documenting this unusual web-based friendship. And soon the paintings start to arrive in New York by the boxload, as well as songs written by Abby and her musician brother Alex.
The filmmakers follow the story chronologically, crafting an inventive narrative as Nev chats online to Abby, her parents (Angela and Vince) and especially her half-sister Megan, an artist who develops a crush on Nev that becomes mutual. But things take a turn when Nev discovers that Megan is passing off other peoples' music as her own. And other things turn out to be lies as well. So maybe this whole family is a hoax.
The twisty story is thoroughly compelling, as anyone using social websites has felt suspicions that people aren't who they claim to be. And it's thoroughly enjoyable to watch these three hilarious and extremely likeable young guys try to get to the bottom of things. When they decide to go to Michigan and get the truth firsthand, the film develops an irresistible sense of suspense. As they approach the house at 2.30am, it's like watching a reality heist movie.
Along the way, we get a surprisingly honest look at internet relationships, including a very funny scene in which an embarrassed Nev reads out a sexually charged chat he had with Megan. And the climactic meeting is like a covert operation that gets even more complicated as they try to get Angela to admit the truth. But would fabrication make their relationship any less real? Or the personal drama any less honest? And besides, this film is extremely well shot and edited, making us wonder how much of it is staged. Not that it matters when the story is this entertaining.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Thursday 2nd December 2010
Box Office Worldwide: $3M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures/Rogue
Production compaines: Hit the Ground Running Films
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 116 Rotten: 28
Cast & Crew
Starring: Megan Faccio as Herself, Melody C. Roscher as Herself, Ariel Schulman as Himself (as Rel Schulman), Yaniv Schulman as Himself (as Nev Schulman)