The film (a documentary) opens on Yaniv "Nev" Schulman, a photographer residing in Manhattan who several weeks earlier had one of his photos published in the New York Times. More recently, Nev received an e-mail from an 8-year-old Michigander named Abby. Abby has drawn a painting, in remarkable detail, of the NYT photograph and attached it to the email.
The rest of the camera crew consists of Nev's brother Ariel "Rel" Schulman, and their friend Henry Joost, who run a photography company named Supermarche. The crew decides to document Nev's interactions with Abby, after realizing the potential of her prodigial talents.
Abby and Nev continue their friendship via e-mail, and Nev would begin to receive packages in the mail containing the original prints of Abby's drawings. Nev is also contacted on Facebook by Abby's mother, Angela Wesselman, who begins to have regular phone conversations with Nev, talking about her daughter and family life, most notably Abby's promising art career. We learn that original prints of Abby's paintings sell for thousands of dollars at local art auctions, and that the family is in the process of purchasing a small gallery to showcase Abby's art.
Nev's Facebook relationship with the family extends to include Abby's father, brother, and attractive older sister, Megan. Megan begins to flirt with Nev on Facebook regularly; her attraction to Nev is highlighted when she sends Nev a self-drawn painting of Nev's profile picture (Nev laying down against a wall), and attaching a note saying how much she would like to rest on his lap.
Nev and Megan soon enough begin to have regular phone conversations, which grow increasingly intimate. Megan is a veterinarian's assistant, though she possesses a multitude of talents: she can clearly paint, just as well as Abby, though she also works as a model, dancer, and amateur musician. Megan begins to send self-recorded covers of Nev's favorite songs to him via e-mail.
Things begin to turn bizarre when Nev and his crew travel to Colorado to photograph a local dance convention. In a terrifying scene in the Colorado hotel room, Nev whips out his Mac and begins to instant message Megan, who sends him another self-recorded cover. The crew begin to dance and joke around, and log on to Megan's Facebook profile to listen to the other covers she has posted up. The crew compliment Megan on her talent via IM, but begin to notice that the Facebook embed of Nev's favorite of Megan's covers is not working. Nev searches the song, "It's All Downhill From Here," and finds an mp3 website that streams the song; although the version they're listening to is by a different artist, it shares an eerie, almost identical, resemblance to Megan's cover. They compare the two tracks and indeed, they're the same thing. The crew researches the rest of the covers Megan embedded on her Facebook, and discover that they're all mp3's converted from live performances on Youtube.
Still conversing on IM, Nev interrogates Megan about the similarity of the covers, and her answers are strangely evasive. She eventually logs off, claiming to be upset about Nev's attitude towards her.
The crew fly back to New York, and discover a number of other lies: several hours spent on trying to track down Abby on Google prove to useless; she isn't the local sensation Angela claims she is. In addition, the crew finds out that the warehouse Angela claims the family purchased to use as Abby's gallery is still up for sale, and hasn't received any offers in four years.
At this point, Nev is disappointed and exhausted, and his virtual relationship with Megan begins to turn stale. In a pivotal scene, Henry, Rel, and Nev get into an argument about their motivations for continuing. Nev hesitantly agrees to finish filming, and the crew decides to fly out to Michigan to visit the family they've been corresponding with.
The crew arrive in Michigan, grab a bite in the airport diner (where the waitress shares her own story of internet deception), and drive a rental car out to the rural town of Ishpeming, where Angela's family resides. During the drive, Nev has a phone conversation with Megan, where she claims that she spent the entire day tending to her horses, who were in labor. It's pretty obvious she's lying, and the crew decide to take a detour to the hotel, first passing by the farm where Megan supposedly lives. The farm turns out to be completely vacant, and the crew spend the night in a hotel, where Nev recites phone sex conversations he and Megan had in the past.
The next morning, the crew visit Angela's household, James Bond style, with Nev wearing a hidden microphone, Ariel documenting from inside the house with a casual camcorder, and Henry manning the "getaway car" with the master camera. Ariel and Nev walk knock on the door, and greeted by Angela, a woman much older and overweight than the slim, attractive woman in her Facebook profile picture. They are also greeted by Megan's father Vince, who similarly looks nothing like Vince from Facebook.
We learn Angela and Vince are parents to two disabled twins, Angela is under chemotherapy for breast cancer, Angela does a little bit of painting herself, and that Abby is currently at her friend's house, getting ready to hit the beach. Angela calls Megan several times, but she fails to answer her phone. Rel and Nev, completely freaked out at this point, agree to accompany Angela to pick up Abby and her friend and go hang out at the beach.
At the friend's house, we learn that Abby is not an artist, and that Megan cut off all connection with the family several years prior. After a good time at the Ishpeming beach, the crew decide to head back to the hotel room and take some rest before they go eat dinner with the family that night.
In the car ride back to the hotel room, the crew is able to piece together the entire story: Angela is the artist; Megan, though she definitely exists, has never had any contact with Nev in the eight months prior; and the big shocker: all of the Facebook profiles Nev came into contact with are facades created by Angela, who has been manipulating Nev the entire time. The crew decides that before they leave Michigan, they need to have a confrontation with Angela about her wrongdoings.
This begins the next day, when Nev and Angela take Abby out horseback riding. Nev very smoothly reveals that he and his friends know the true nature of the family Nev has come into contact with, and he deserves more than anything to have a proper sit-down with Angela to go over any unanswered questions he or his crew have. Angela, now horribly ashamed, consents.
The crew follow Angela back to her home, and begin to document her life. Angela reveals the setup of her scheme while painting a portrait of Nev. Angela is in possession of over a dozen fabricated Facebook profiles, which she creates by copy/pasting photographs of strangers, and gives a sense of realism to by having the profiles interact with one another the same way a social network would. She owns two cell phones and a house phone, and she was indeed the one having phone sex with Nev.
Angela's rationale is soon explored: when she married Vince a decade earlier, she realized that doing so meant sacrificing her career, social life, and nearly all of her happiness and sense of accomplishment. Her life off of the web is spent tending for her two disabled sons, who though she loves dearly, she admits are exhausting. Her life on the web is a way for her to simulate friendships, a process the crew take the effort to remind her is unjust.
In a heart-wrenching scene, Nev requests Angela, still working on Nev's portrait, to speak to him in Megan's tone of voice. Angela begins, and through Megan, acknowledges the emotional turmoil that she put Nev through, claiming the portrait is the "hardest painting she ever drew." Nev replies, "it better be."
The crew returns to New York, and after several weeks receive a package containing Nev's portrait, which is clearly by far the most detailed and beautiful drawing of Angela's yet displayed in the film. The film, like most documentaries, closes with ending notes, which show that Angela has given up her Facebook scheme to pursue a serious career in art, and that Angela and Nev still remain in touch.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
Brought to you by
The film tells the story of a man named Nev, who befriends a little girl named Abby after she emails him a painting. Abby is supposedly a child prodigy who paints beautiful pictures, and as Nev (filmed by his brother, Ariel, and a friend of theirs) becomes better friends with Abby, he meets Abby's older sister, Megan, and their mother, Angela over Facebook. As he becomes more and more romantically involved with Megan via IMs, texts, phone calls, and the like, little details start to go awry: Megan, a supposed songwriter, didn't really write all the songs she said she did, and various other things about her turn out to be untrue.
Finally, the large twist at the end is that Nev and his friends are in the midwest, so they take a side trip and go to meet Megan and her family, to find that Angela is the only one of the three who is real. The other two were personae created by Angela, who is married and takes care of two disabled sons. She is also the painter of all of Abby's paintings.
You can send in your spoiler to other movies by going here.