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The Social Network: Disappointing

I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin, but I saw The Social Network last night and was quite disappointed.

First, some notes: I don’t think there are any spoilers in what I’m about to say, at least not beyond what you would read in a typical review. Second, I didn’t have a problem with how the movie presented the Internet; my reaction is not about that, because the movie really is not about that.

It’s not a bad movie, just disappointing, and a little long. Even the dialogue was way less interesting than what the glowing reviews had said, and what we’ve come to expect from the writer of the West Wing.

I had two major problems with the movie, both due directly to the writing. (The acting and editing were good. I also like the Trent Reznor score.)

First, the movie is cliched. It’s about the cool kids against the snobby frat kids, with the difference that the cool kids are the geeks. Predictable and boring. Also, I didn’t recognize what I know of Harvard in it, although I admittedly am in an odd corner of the place.

Second, I thought the portrayal of the main character was lazy and cowardly. The movie shows Mark Zuckerberg as affectless, arrogant, and without empathy or social graces. (Forget the cheap irony that was probably the original motivation for the movie: Oooh, the guy who invented the world-changing social networking site is not social.) The only explanation we’re given for his anti-social behavior is banal and silly, having to do with a couple of incidents that caused MZ some social class envy. That’s lazy. Then, at the very end, a two sentence re-framing of his character is presented that I think we were supposed to think is revelatory. But it wasn’t, at least for me. It contradicted everything the movie had led us to believe about MZ, and gives a non-sensical characterization unsupported by anything else in the movie. Honestly, when I heard it, I thought the movie-makers were just thinking about how to dodge getting sued by MZ.

By the way, I heard Sorkin say that the movie makes no judgments, and tells the story three different ways, in a Rashomon way. Baloney. In the movie there are two sets of plaintiffs and one defendant, but the movie presents a single view of what happened. In one of the two cases, we are left with some doubt about who was right. But that’s not exactly seeing the same events multiple times through different eyes, as in Rashomon.

(An early note to Oscars wagerers: Because I thought the script was disappointing, I am predicting that the movie will win at least best screenplay.)

11 Responses to “The Social Network: Disappointing”

  1. I watched it last night too. Same reaction. There were isolated stretches where the writing really clicked, but the story arc had nothing holding it up.

    The final line was Sorkin running out of guesses about what would drive such a narrowly focused mind to think to change a world so set apart from it, the very blueprints of sociality, and succeed. A punt of an ending.

    Put any episode of West Wing seasons 1-2 on the big screen over that.

  2. Nicely put, Jason.

  3. […] more here:  Joho the Blog » The Social Network: Disappointing This entry was posted on Saturday, October 16th, 2010 at 3:03 am and is filed under […]

  4. “The Social Network” was an incredibly engaging film that, while mainly revolving around the invention of Facebook (and all the problems that the creators encountered both before and after all was said and done), really focused in on ideas and feelings that can be (and are) universally felt through all people, the primary example being trying to fit in. Everyone wants to be accepted (I for one have never met a single human being that has wanted to be a loner), and some will do whatever it takes to get that sort of attention (which tends to lead into bad consequences). In a year where movies have received some of the lowest critical ratings (as well as box office earnings) in recent memory, “The Social Network” was, while haunting, truly refreshing and ultimately a triumph in all aspects, whether it be considering the acting, script, or directing. It was a fantastic movie that shouldn’t just be among the best of the year; it’s so much more important than that. It defines the entire social networking generation, and that is one hell of an accomplishment. Everyone can relate to it one way or another, and that makes it one of the must-see pictures of the year.

  5. One thing I guess we’ll all agree on is it’s a shoo-in for best adapted screenplay.

  6. I saw the film a couple of weeks ago and plan to go back again sometime before it leaves town. I was pleasantly surprised to watch a movie much different from what the previews promised.

    The key scene in the movie I saw took place across the deposition table, the scene that ended with young Zuckerberg informing the patriarchal plaintiffs’ attorney that the barest minimum of MZ’s attention was the appropriate amount of attention for the proceedings at hand. A generation or so ago a young Bob Dylan leveraged emerging technology to deliver the same message to the same non-comprehending audience: the times they are a changing. The underlying thought may not be all that profound but the delivery, in both cases, is stunning.

  7. Wray, I agree about that scene being key. Sorkin is the master of having a crushing salvo turn on a non sequitur. “It’s raining.” Carries echoes of Dylan, you’re right.

  8. This review confirms the impression left by the preview: superficial and cliched. I’ve been reluctant to see it in spite of all the buzz and how good Eisenberg is in everything.

    Your comments re: Harvard are also compelling– how many films do manage to conjure that world?

  9. Wow. Tough crowd.

    I enjoyed the movie. On the facts it has little to do with reality; Zuckerberg is not like that, he didn’t march out of Matt Welch’s OS course, or my theory class either, he treated me with respect when he asked me a question about an early prototype, I never heard of strip poker being a pastime at Harvard, never heard of drunk-coding as a competitive game here, and so on. David Brooks correctly describes the sociology as a fantasy. That is all Hollywood, so of course this is not a documentary, and it is full of caricatures. (Except for Summers. That really IS Summers.) It is a drama about what it means to have an idea, to steal an idea, and to own an idea. Zuckerberg did not invent social networking — Friendster or MySpace or both get mentioned. Harvard’s I/T department had online facebooks on its to-do list of the small development staff for the following summer, if they had time. Aaron Greenspan was also in the mix of people at Harvard working on online social networking. I thought the movie did a pretty good job with the complex moral and legal question of what it means to be original in this business. And as Matt observed, it also correctly made the point that, right or wrong, geeks rule — the big winners are the people who write their own code, not the CFOs or CEOs who hire coders.

  10. I agree that Social network was disappointing, i did not find it as interesting as the trailer! There did not seem to be enough exploration of the court cases, i feel none the wiser for having watched it.

  11. What I most appreciated about SN was, as H. Lewis notes, the drama about what it means to have an idea, to share an idea, to own an idea, and to have an idea stolen. Some of the cliche and predictable elements can be forgiven when they act as props to hold up the fabric of portraying such experiences. I also liked how SN portrayed the transcendence of a variety of social, technical and geographic boundaries through the tool and its creation. Not sure about the true winners being coders v. CEOs, but the true winners are indeed the ones who persevere without giving up their ideals.

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