October 20th, 2010

Rose-coloured Reviews *The Social Network*

I came home from The Social Network in the mood to write about it, having absolutely no idea that it’s being called one of the best movies of the year and that *everyone’s* talking about it (see above link). Hello, I’m Rebecca, would you like to step under my rock?

In case you have your own rock, this is a fictionalized (some would say heavily) bio-pic about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder (some would say one of several) of Facebook. It starts with his life in college–being simultaneously condescending and insecure to his girlfriend, and conceiving of complicated cruel websites with his dorm-mates when she dumps him. From this, his social site-building turns more ambitious, more universal and less misognistic, and we’re off to the races.

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that the screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin who has written films, plays, but most memorably tv shows. It’s been a while since I watched much tv, but back when I left, Sorkin was the acknowledged televisual genius of homosocial bonding–in shows like Sports Night and The West Wing a group of smart, sweet, friendly guys tried to help each other navigate the world, their chosen professions, and those kooky kooky ladies–and it was brilliant. Other things, Sorkin can do well, but for cerebral male banter, he’s #1 (in my opinion).

So it’s funny, and fascinating, to see in this film the same intellectual snap and punch as Sorkin always employs, but with guys who aren’t sweet, who don’t like each other and who aren’t trying to help. Most of the characters in *The Social Network* are jerks by any normal standard, but Sorkin never succumbs to that Hollywood impulse to make the bad guys stupid.

And really, that’s my Hollywood impulse talking when I use the term “bad guys” because there aren’t any, exactly, in this film (except maybe Lawrence Summers, at that time the president of Harvard, and a big meanie in the film). Sorkin creates multi-dimensional complicated conflicted characters, who enact their internal conflicts by being more than a little externally mean. But even the worst behaviour shown here–and there’s some pretty bad stuff–is obviously justified in the characters own minds, and it’s Sorkin’s achievement that you can see those minds working.

The screenwriter has been getting some flak for the misogyny of the charcters, and some of it really is quite fierce. In contrast to all the previous times this accusation has been made of Sorkin, this time he has a defense–the characters he wrote about were jerks to women and did not think of them as equals. And maybe because that’s a feeling that Sorkin has wrestled with so often in the past, he is able to make the bad-boy behaviour seem pretty human, awful as it is.

But let’s be straight about it–there’s lots of awful in this film. It’s basically a couple hours on how people screwed each other in various ways. The music–here’s a helpful clue I spotted in the opening credits to help me brace myself–is by Trent Reznor–creepy, clangy, and dark. The director is David Fincher who did, along with a host of serial killer movies and music videos, Fight Club. Again with the homo-social bonding, again with the amoral, weirdly intelligent male leader.

But it’s a dark movie with some bright streaks–like I say, the dialogue is sharp and witty, even more so about halfway through, when Justin Timberlake shows up. You can just shut up about my early aughts affection for *NSYNC, I think JT is genuinely talented. And even if I’m wrong about that, he’s definitely charming as Sean Parker, some guy I’ve never heard of who apparently founded Napster (I’ve heard of that) and is a unequivocal jerk. Not a brainless one, though, and he does some interesting things in the movie, but on the whole I found him less so than most of the jerks in this film, because of the rest of them do equivocate, and that’s more interesting.

There’s exactly one main character that you can empathize with and root for, and that’s Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerburg’s one-time friend and business partner. As played by Andrew Garfield, Eduardo is a sweetie-pie but an eager dupe, and for most of the second half of the film appears to be on the verge of tears. Not easy to watch.

Which is how I felt about the whole thing in the end–there’s only so much power-mad conniving youth you can watch before you start to, as I told my viewing companions afterwards, wish you were dead. Despite my boundless admiration for this film, I did not actually enjoy watching it.

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