The Social Network: Is it really THAT good? …is anything?

Posted on 04 October 2010 by ShepRamsey

I have to say that I’m a bit puzzled by the overwhelmingly positive reaction of the…um…entire critical community for David Fincher’s The Social Network.  Judging by that film criticism mothership known as RottenTomatoes, this Aaron Sorkin-scripted Facebook bio is Fincher’s very best movie, beating out 2007’s Zodiac by what is currently 8%.  Even Metacritic, which more accurately averages critics’ scores (although using much, much fewer critics) gives this movie a staggering score of 98.

At this stage, it’s a lock for a Best Picture nomination, and most likely the current frontrunner for the win.  The movie was certainly being hyped up in the month prior to its release, but during the week prior I had never—never—seen a movie get a reaction like this.  And based on everything I was reading, I was destined to love it.  I was excited.

Now, I do have to blame that massive insurmountable hype—which is no fault of Fincher’s or Sorkin’s or anyone of the other key creative minds involved—for a fairly large portion of my disappointment.  Yes, I said disappointment.  I was disappointed by The Social Network.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it, though.  It’s a good movie—a very good movie.  It might even find a spot on my top ten (to be fair, though, I haven’t seen nearly as many movies this year as I normally do).  I greatly wish I hadn’t exposed myself to so many of the rave reviews, though.  Oh well.  What’s done is done and cannot be undone, and I’ve seen the film and now I have to deal with it—the film, that is.  What do I make of it on my own?

Well, I’d be lying if I said its bitter bleakness didn’t offer up a tried and true testament to our times; a further step down the road of technology’s displacement of actual social interaction, where computers can exploit the allure of exclusivity so that social status may literally be measured in numbers, so that your personality may be cleanly organized and categorized, so that you’re not truly dating someone if your Facebook status says otherwise.  The irony illustrated by Fincher’s film shows us a culture of people far more complex than the trappings of the boxes into which they wish to fit themselves.

I’m not a Facebook man, myself.  I have an account for some reason, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I was on it.  I’m kinda anti-Facebook, anti-Twitter, anti-MySpace, anti…um…social.  It’s been a hindrance upon Quaid in the past when he’s wanted me to try and do some actual marketing for this little site of ours.  But I will cut my throat before I start writing cutesy-clever status updates ten times a day to show people how fucking narcissistically obnoxious I am…

Okay, while I still have maybe three or four of you, I should probably just get on with the review.   From all standpoints, this is an extremely well-made movie.  It’s well-written, it’s well-directed, the performances are through-the-roof good, Trent Reznor’s score is excellent, and it’s a Fincher movie, so of course it looks great too.  But it could’ve been better.  More brisk, fun, and exciting, and a little less cumbersome.

It’s not a problem that Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg, for whom I’d be happy to campaign for an Oscar nomination) sets a new movie standard for unlikability.  Many movies thrive on putting their villains front-and-center; take There Will Be Blood for instance (although I’m at a loss to identify who the good guy was in that movie).  Daniel Plainview, bad dude though he is, is utterly fascinating to watch and makes the two hours and forty minutes of that film gush past like freshly struck oil (pun most certainly intended).

I guess what the problem is, is that Fincher and Sorkin clearly have so much disdain for him that they sort of leave him be for a bit in the final act of the film, which disrupts our focus and exploration of his character, and makes the movie feel less absorbing and less original. 

In all honesty, though, I was half-grateful.  Some villains are fun to hate; Zuckerberg is exhausting—fascinating, but exhausting.  And I guess it’s just human nature for one’s spite for a particular subject to be magnified to such extremes when said subject is a current event.  The real Zuckerberg was quoted saying about the movie, “I just wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive.”  It might’ve worked out better, especially for him.

Fincher and Sorkin throw him a few bones, though.  A late line in the film, “You’re not an asshole, you just try so hard to be,” is really pretty damn true when you think about it.  He’s just too pathetic, too insecure, too socially inept, and too determined to not appear as any of those things to keep straight the difference between exuding self-confidence and being a complete asshole.  Hell, in his defense, all the popular people he’s ever known were probably assholes; most I’ve known are.  Ironically enough, perhaps being well-liked means being an asshole—that’s just one of many sadly accurate observations on the nature of power and influence in an oppressively socially-charged atmosphere to be found in The Social Network.

The final moments of the movie, playing off an earlier exchange between Zuckerberg and Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), also give him a few chuckles and a small dose of humanity as the epilogue title cards roll.  However, the movie falters where, in about the last 45 minutes, the plot leaves Zuckerberg so far by the wayside that I wasn’t quite ready to start feeling bad for him when Fincher and Sorkin asked me to.  Nevertheless these are strong touches that add much-needed layer to Zuckerberg.

But nothing serves the character more than Eisenberg’s performance.  He’s not playing the same character we’ve seen him do in everything from Roger Dodger and The Squid and the Whale to last year’s Adventure- and Zombieland(s).  He’s got an absolutely pitiful anti-charm that is simultaneously one of the saddest and most infuriating things captured on film all year.

After brashly alienating and offending every woman within a fifty-mile radius, a note passed to him in class which simply reads “u dick” elicits one of the most utterly painful looks I’ve ever seen an actor give—affronted, insulted, angry, arrogant, ashamed, embarrassed, confused, and fighting tears all at once.  If there was an Oscar for Best Look, there’s the gold right there.  I’ve known people like that and Eisenberg more than nails it—I fear that some part of him is it.

Also noteworthy is Andrew Garfield, who portrays Eduardo Saverin, our hero during those last 45 minutes I was talking about.  There’s a definite point in the movie where the focus seems to shift from Zuckerberg to someone who we might sympathize with more easily.  Not that you’d have to look far.  For those who might not know, this is the guy playing Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Marc Webb’s forthcoming superfluous reboot of Spider-Man.  His performance in this film has me infinitely more interested in that one.  Garfield is a very interesting actor to watch and I look forward to seeing more of him.

And this is just because no one else is mentioning it—the kid from Jurassic Park is in this thing!!  Just where the hell has he been all these years??  There was that Star Kid movie and then what?  Well, welcome back, kid!

Anyway…it’s a really good movie.  I really mean that.  It’s not perfect, but I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a solid argument against almost all of the gobs of praise that this movie is getting.  It is sort of a Citizen Kane/There Will Be Blood sort of story for the modern age, where power and success are now measured in “friends,” rather than dollars (not that there aren’t plenty of dollars along the way).  It’s genuinely fascinating.

But that’s not to say that I don’t find its complete and total embracement genuinely puzzling.  I mean, geez, Inception had more detractors than this thing, and—from where I’m standing at least—Inception is a more widly creative and a way more easily likable movie.  The Social Network, as smart, sharp, quick on its feet, socially relevant, and extremely well-made as it is, can be kind of a chore to watch at times.

Like I said earlier, some trips into the worlds of loathsome characters can be fun and fascinating to watch.  The Social Network really puts you through the ringer at times.  There’s really no one to root for until someone finally blows up and rips into Zuckerberg, which makes for one of the most cathartic scenes of the year.  All in all, though, it’s one of those movies that tempts me to say that I respected it more than I actually enjoyed it.

A lot of this is personal taste, though.  The unlikable-people-digging-themselves-into-some-shit-while-getting-filthy-rich-off-it-and-then-everything-turns-sour-and-they-spend-a-lot-of-time-being-mad-at-each-other genre (or “Biopic,” if you’d rather) is one that I almost always have some kind of block on.  Plus, after the first few douchebags-partying scenes I was irritated beyond belief.  No fault of Fincher’s, I suppose.  I’m sure he’s just calling it like he sees it.  Which is sadder than holy hell, but that’s a different article for a different website.

Maybe I’m getting off my point, but it just seems strange to me that of all the movies that come out and get mostly good reviews and a light sprinkling of bad ones, the one that has virtually no bad reviews (Armond White doesn’t count, I think we should all agree on that) is this one.

And where the hell is the much-deserved love for the owl movie????  That movie fucking rocked!!  Critics are weird.

I guess something I would have liked to have seen done with this movie would be for Fincher to have taken the George Clooney-Good Night and Good Luck approach.  And by that I mean to have made it a taut, no-bullshit 90-minute story of what happened (or in this case, what may or may not have happened), and let the themes speak for themselves.  There are a few bits in The Social Network that I felt could have hit the cutting-room floor, thus resulting in a film so spry and quick on its feet that it would have surely scaled back on the tedium of the story, and the exhaustion spent on hating the characters would have gone by unnoticed.  Everyone wins, right?

I’ve seen many reviewers recall Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, in reference to its questionable-truth flashback storytelling—an understandable and extremely complimentary comparison; Rashomon is, in my opinion, one of the very greatest films of all time.  But let’s not forget that that movie accomplished its strokes of brilliance in a brisk and haunting 88 minutes.

As talented as Fincher is, he doesn’t always know when to say when.  Many of us who sat through all 166 minutes of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the only film of his that I just don’t like) would surely agree with that.  His 162-minute Zodiac, however, is my favorite film of his, so sometimes it works out for the best.  His shortest films, however, are his least ambitious, but still clock in at just a hair under two hours.  This one’s a very, very good two-hour movie, but I feel it might have been a great one hour-and-40-minute movie.

I do, however, acknowledge that The Social Network is a cut above most of what this year’s had to offer (though not the best) and I support its inevitable forthcoming awards, but I just feel that I must be open about what I feel were the movie’s missteps because no one else seems to be.  It’s getting more than simply universal praise, it’s bringing out the hyperbole in even the stingiest of critics, and I don’t understand how a movie that’s so difficult to really enjoy, that’s clearly a bit overstuffed with unnecessary details, could be so madly adored the world over.  I’m not trying to be belligerent about it at all, I’m merely puzzled.  Truth be told, I’m much happier to see people rally around this movie than, say, Avatar.  MUCH much.  Much.

Maybe when I see it again, my far more reined-in expectations will allow me to enjoy and appreciate the film a lot more.  In fact, I’m almost certain of it.  A lot of movies just have to grow on you.  When I left the theater after The Social Network I felt I didn’t need nor want to see it again for a long, long time.  But now, as more of it keeps replaying in my mind, as I write about it now, and think back on it and each expertly crafted detail, my admiration grows.  It’s not the perfect film that many are suggesting, but it’s a damn fine one that deserves to be seen.

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