Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Social Mehtwork

As always I'm way behind on movies, and I don't believe in catching up for the Oscars, because I don't believe in watching things just because they're nominated for awards and I'm usually so far behind and watch so much TV that it would be futile anyway. But I was genuinely interested in The Social Network and missed it in theaters, and did make a point of Netflixing it before the Oscars (which I won't be watching because it's the only night I can see a play I want to see, but that’s not really relevant).

So here's the thing: I am an unabashed and unrepentant Aaron Sorkin fan. Even in the darkest hours of Studio 60 I found enjoyment in the clever (if forced) wordplay, the zippy (if artificial) pace, and the generally fantastic (in spite of the material) acting. I am one of a handful of people who both saw and liked The Farnsworth Invention on Broadway. And I don't need to make parenthetical apologies for The West Wing and Sports Night. I totally understand why people don't like him, and I know people who have personal reasons not to, but I'm pretty deep in the tank. That said, it's been impossible to avoid reading about this movie and Sorkin's antiquated views of the Internet in general and Facebook in particular, and about how much of this movie, using the names of real people and marketed as a true story, was completely and totally made up. (Read this. I'll wait.)

So I expected to be conflicted. I figured that taken in a vacuum, as a (fictional) film by a writer I like full of actors I like, I would enjoy it, and I'd be pissed off about it on principle later. I was really wrong on both counts.

First, my backlash to the backlash: There were a couple of cringe-worthy moments but I didn't find it to be nearly so internet-hating as I'd heard. The much-talked-about speech about how bloggers are awful was even worse than I expected, and was so clearly Sorkin airing his personal dirty laundry that it took me out of the movie. There'd also been a lot of talk about the movie's misogyny, but that struck me as more about Zuckerberg and Parker (the characters) than about Sorkin or Fincher. Much is made (so much!) about how these guys are jerks and so their treatment of women (or lack of women who'd be willing to hang out with them) made perfect sense to me. I didn't have a problem with that.

What did piss me off was the last thing I expected: How fucking boring this movie was and how I hated pretty much everyone in it! (And now's a good time to mention that if you follow me on Twitter and were on last night, you've read much of this already...because I was quite bored.) I adore Jesse Eisenberg. So far in his career he's played basically one type of character and I think he's done it very well. Variations on awkward but sweet. It's the sweet that usually comes through and makes him winning. For whatever reason, I felt like all of his natural charm disappeared in this role. Nasty just doesn't sit well on him. True, Zuckerberg (the character...I'll stop doing that) is a total dick, but I have to believe that someone who has gotten to where Zuckerberg (the real person...see, it's useful!) is has some charm in real life (not that his public appearances really back this theory up). And even if he doesn't, the movie version of him has to or I don't want to spend two hours with him. (See also: Extra Hot Great's ongoing discussion of TV jerks.) Full disclosure slash name-drop: I worked on a play with Jesse in 1999, and he was a thoroughly delightful and neurotic 15-year-old who I'm sure doesn't remember me. So maybe my real-life affection for him colors how I feel about watching him play a total douchebag, but regardless I didn't enjoy it. I wish they could have gone back in time and gotten a 25-year-old Bradley Whitford or Josh Charles to play this part.

So right from the first scene I was against this guy, and against this movie. Why is he being so mean? To his girlfriend?! And why was she with him in the first place? It sort of makes no sense that they would ever go out. And it's not like he's Darth Vader; he's not some great villain, he's just a whiny prick (wait, is he Anakin Skywalker?). Sorkin knows how to write an opening scene that grabs you. And he knows how to write people being jerky and likeable at the same time. (Evidence.) So maybe this was Fincher's fault.

Speaking of, there were some batshit directorial choices in this film, starting with that scene, starting with the sound design. As much as I hate when people in movies act like you can talk at a normal volume at a party or a bar, that doesn't mean you have to actually make it difficult for the audience to hear the dialogue in a party or a bar scene. Throughout the movie the sound seemed way off balance, with background noise overpowering the actors. This reached its apex in the club scene with Parker, but I'd already noticed it throughout, especially in the opening. There has to be a line between realism and headache. So anyway, in that first scene I felt like I was straining against the background noise, and against the general dickishness, and it was a terrible way to start that turned me off almost completely.

I say almost, because I had further to go, as this scene was followed immediately by a seemingly endless voiceover about writing code! You know what's more boring than watching people write code? Listening to them narrate it in a monotone! So for a solid twenty minutes or so, I felt assaulted by this movie. It did get better, once the "action" ramped up in the second half. But I was consistently at a low level of either boredom or aggravation throughout.

Much has been made about how good Andrew Garfield is. And he is good. And adorable. But you guys...that accent? Every time he opened his mouth all I could think about was Christian Bale in Newsies. This is a particular bugaboo of mine. I don’t like this trend of British actors playing Americans, not because "they're taking our jobs," but because their accents are so often so terrible. I could barely get through Batman Begins (not to harp on Christian Bale – prizes go to pretty much the entire cast there). I really hope they get a better dialect coach for Spider-Man because he looks really good in that suit and I really really want to like him. (And yes, I'm sure it's just as bad for Brits listening to American actors play them.)

I'd heard all about the heinous snow and "cold breath" effects, and I have nothing to add to that conversation except that it was even worse than I imagined. It's a movie set in the relative present, at a real place, shot (I think?) at that real place. I should not have to suspend my disbelief for the special effects. (I also found the twins creepy, but I think that was only because I knew what was happening, not because of flaws in the effect.)

And can we talk about that regatta on the Thames scene? John (with whom I was IMing while I watched and who encouraged me to write this post…so, blame him) told me that it was on a bunch of critics' best-of-the-year lists. Um, why? It wasn't even a scene so much as a 2+ minute establishing shot. We get it, they're at a race in London. If it seems a strange thing for me to devote a whole paragraph to, consider that this is a movie with pacing problems, and this was around the point where the "action" was gearing up and I was starting to get into it a little bit. And then everything stopped dead in its tracks for no good reason so we could watch rowing. Also, it was bafflingly scored with "In The Hall of the Mountain King" played on a Casio keyboard from the 80s. Huh?

But enough nitpicking. I just felt the movie was deeply confused. It's clearly about Zuckerberg, but it's also clear that Sorkin and Fincher sort of hate him. And that's fine, there can be an anti-hero protagonist. But it also seems like they hate everyone else. Even the ex-girlfriend, who is obviously the Sorkin stand-in, is kind of a pill. Is Zuckerberg the hero and the Winkelvii the villains (see above re: "In The Hall of the Mountain King")? There's clearly some admiration for what he accomplished. Whatever you think of Facebook, the kid's a millionaire and the site's place in the culture is undeniable. But this undercurrent of contempt for all the characters – and Harvard, and Silicon Valley – was equally undeniable and completely off-putting. When Eduardo barks at Zuckerberg, "You pretentious douchebag!" I couldn't help but laugh because it could have applied to anyone in the movie - and Sorkin and Fincher.

Where was that crackling Sorkin dialogue that I love? There were good lines here and there, but very few and far between. This was such a sub-par effort from him, and he'll probably win an Oscar tomorrow. The plus side of his personal views always coming through in his scripts is the way the characters who speak for him are usually passionate, and that passion comes through with wit and energy. Was the lackluster dialogue here a result of him not identifying with the characters? Was it Fincher's fault? The cast's? (I found it interesting that there wasn't a single member of the "Aaron Sorkin Players" in the film, even in one of the small roles for people over 30.) It's entirely possible that this is a matter of inflated expectations, but I found the whole thing to be incredibly flat, and my biggest takeaway from the movie is that I found it mostly very very dull.

Okay, and one more nitpick? In the "where are they nows" at the end of the movie, they say that Eduardo's name was "returned to the masthead." Dude, I know you hate the internet but did you even look at Facebook while you were writing the script? Facebook doesn't have a masthead. Seriously, I checked. Do websites even have mastheads? Does Aaron Sorkin think websites are newspapers?

Okay, I'm done. Bottom line: BORED. Also I should probably not wait so long before seeing big, hyped movies. I am almost always backlashy about them. Damn my contrarian nature!

Side note: We also watched Catfish this week, and while I found that disappointing and dull too (again, hype), it's a far more interesting and accurate look at social media and online relationships than The Social Network could ever hope to be. While I can't wholeheartedly recommend it as a film, if these are things that interest you you should definitely see it.

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