Spoiler will follow after the Netflix blurb; so if you expect to order it, don't read more here but please come back after you have seen it as I'd like to hear your take. It is not everyone's cup of tea though; so I won't say I recommend it even as I will say I, Farm Boss too, enjoyed it a lot, more than especially he expected.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman document the strange series of events that unfolds when a gifted 8-year old painter named Abby contacts Nev, a 24-year-old photographer (and Schulman's brother), through Facebook. After Abby sends Nev a remarkable painting based on one of his photos, Nev begins corresponding with her family -- including her seductive 19-year-old sister. Realizing that something's not quite right, Nev sets out to uncover the truth.As the film, to begin mostly interviews on a webcam, unfolded, I thought I won't write about it here because it's simply too sad, too upsetting as a story, but then it went beyond that to a human connection with need, with the desire to be appreciated, and how our yearning for that can lead us to both create and believe things that aren't what they seem. It can lead to creating a reality that doesn't exist and with the internet, it is possible to bring someone else along for the ride.
First of all the gist of the story is as the blurb explains. It's hard to say for sure but it looks like the beginning idea of the filmmakers, Henry and Ariel, probably was to show relationships online and how it was impacting the life of Ariel's brother, Nev. Some think the whole thing was created to make this story exciting but it didn't seem that way. If it was a fraud, then Nev was a better actor that it appeared.
In the beginning there is a painting sent to Nev by a child protege. He's very impressed with the art and begins to chat with the girl, Abby, at Facebook. Abby's mother, Angela soon is chatting with him. Abby shows him a painting she did of her mother. Then he was introduced to Abby's older sister, Megan, someone younger than Nev but not too much younger. Megan is living a life the opposite of Nev's where she is buying a horse farm and fully involved with family, friends, art, and nature where Nev's is the bustle of the big city and the push to become a successful photographer.
The words flew between the two young people. Soon the feelings grew. Nev, all on Facebook, meets more and more of Megan's friends. These people post things on their walls that Nev could then read. A possible love but definitely lust begins to grow between the two as Megan is beautiful and innocently very seductive.
If the original goal was to show how love can grow online, something Nev wasn't thrilled to have recorded but was going along with, it soon developed a change of direction as there came suspicions that Megan, possibly Angela and maybe even Abby were lying about their accomplishments and what they were doing.
At this point, I could so relate to this story as I have heard of this and seen it several times online. People create stories, use photos that are old or not even of themselves, and they pull in another who falls in love with a person who doesn't really exist. In those cases usually the person did exist except they don't look like what they are suggesting and saying. They aren't doing the exciting things they are describing. They are using those things as bait.
In this story as the three young men grow to understand the characters on Facebook have been embroidering their lives, they decide the only way to find out what is real is to go to where the family lives. They must follow through for real.
Here is where I thought I will never write about this. It's too harsh and cruel on both sides. I had read about this documentary in the fall when it was at Sundance. I knew what would happen. I figured I would watch it all but no way I'd write about what Nev found when he got to Megan's supposed home base.
First the three young men checked out the address of a supposed building that Abby was remodeling from an old building with the money she was making off her paintings. Fraud. Next they checked out the supposed horse farm and found it deserted, postcards from Nev in an unused mailbox.
The next morning, set up with a wire and being filmed, Nev headed for the home that the family was supposed to live in. He didn't know what to expect other than exposing a lot of lies.
What he found was Angela, a 40-year old woman, who had created all of the characters. Yes, she had a daughter named Abby but Abby didn't paint. She had a daughter named Megan but she didn't look like the pictures and didn't live with her mother, hadn't for a long time. Angela was overweight, and probably could have, at one time or in her imagination, looked like the supposed painting of herself that she had given Nev.
Here is where the story could have turned cruel and instead evolved into a sort of sad beauty. Angela had painted a world she wished existed. She was married to a man who seemed very nice (looked nothing like the image she had posted) but was a little slow developmentally. He looked about 10 years older than Angela. There was no answer given as to how these people survived but guessing the next thing they discovered explains that. Angela was caring for her husband's two sons who were so severely developmentally challenged that they could not possibly function in the outside world. She did all of this with love and gentleness.
Angela's life had few options for escape except one-- to paint and to create an imaginary world for Nev after she likely fell in love with him. Nev was who he had been presenting; so this sad love was not about to ever have a reality. The film makers photographed her again and again as they interviewed her and finally got the story from her.
Instead of revealing ugliness, it revealed sadness. She was a gentle and sweet person who had created an elaborate web of lies. That is a bad thing. If she had been a different person, the story would have had have had no value. It is a story of deception, need, love, and a desire for something that isn't in one's own life and the search for that is finally revealed to have been on both sides of the experience.
I will be writing more about what it made me think about with the next blog as there is too much for one blog. It went way beyond the events to something more about human needs.