2022, Movies, Sports

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist (2022, Ryan Duffy, Tony Vainuku)

All I remember of Manti Te’o was that his girlfriend didn’t exist and he was probably involved somehow. Watching this, that makes me sad. I feel so bad for this man, not just for what this other person did to him, but because of what we as a society did to him, for seemingly no reason except “Hey, isn’t it kind of funny a sports star got catfished!” (Oops, spoiler? That’s a joke.)

I don’t watch college football so I was unaware of Te’o until this story broke, and did it ever break. There are many examples of why the 24 hours news industry is terrible but, certainly, them all turning their attention to a guy getting catfished, just as we were all learning about the term. (As a side note, I was currently avoiding everything I could about what the term meant because I wanted to not have the movie spoiled but hadn’t got around to it watching it. I suspect this story ended my attempt to not learn about it.)

There are at least two crazy things about this story that make it worthwhile to watch this film. The first is that the catfisher doesn’t really appear to understand what they did. They claim to be wracked with guilt and to have understood, even in the moment, that what they were doing was wrong. But, all these years later, they still seem impressed, pleased, and perhaps even glad at times, with what they “accomplished.” I suspect this person has had a really, really hard life. But that doesn’t excuse what they did. At least in this interview, they appear to not fully understand the personal and financial cost to Te’o and they seem to not fully understand the awfulness of what they did. (The coma stuff, in particular, is horrifying.)

The other thing is the media angle, which doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention. As the Deadspin reporter makes clear, the real story was more about the news media not doing any research and just eating up what they thought was a “feel good” (“feel bad”?) story than it was about catfishing, but the news media didn’t want to discuss how they were all fooled. A better film would have looked into that story more, but it’s still present a little bit.

Anyway, if you, like me, didn’t pay much attention and thought this guy made up a girlfriend to get attention, you should really watch this film. You should watch it even if you didn’t think that, because it does a pretty good job of telling the story and it lets the catfisher impeach themselves in a way that is subtle enough that it might have you arguing about whether or not they do.

7/10

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