David Fincher, Scott Rudin and the Sony marketing team are all smiles over a very early rave review from Film Comment of The Social Network, followed by a tweet from Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers (proffering an ad quote after A Social Network lost its Hot Issue cover to Barack Obama): “David Fincher’s Social Network is the 1st film I’ve given **** in 2010. It’s the movie of the year that also brilliantly defines the decade.” The NYT weighs in with a fact vs. fiction debate.
Word from folks who have seen the film is particularly positive for Jesse Eisenberg (as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) and supporting performer Justin Timberlake. Now Oscar prognosticators are falling over themselves that this will be the movie to beat for best picture. Careful what you wish for: too-high expectations and front-runner status are not always a good thing.
Still, Film Comment showed a typical lack of recognition of the rhythms of online publishing by posting far too early than was seemly ex-LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas’s effusively enthusiastic review. Movie sites broke into immediate protest over this because the only reason Foundas had seen the movie so early was that as associate film programmer at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which mounts the New York Film Festival, he was on the NYFF selection committee.
Per usual, many members of that committee are working critics (Melissa Anderson, Dennis Lim, and Todd McCarthy are on the current team), but they can’t just go review the films they’ve screened until they’re shown publicly. Foundas says he was unaware of the timing of this and an over-zealous web editor let the cat out of the bag. But Foundas could easily have put the lid on the review, which he filed for the print edition, and said, ‘don’t post this until this date,’ and all would have been well. It’s one thing for Warners to allow Rolling Stone to publish on newstands their review of Inception a week ahead of everyone else: that didn’t post online until the review embargo was lifted. But to post a full review this far ahead online? Not cool. A Social Network won’t open the fest for another month, on September 24.
Also, Foundas neither makes clear the circumstances under which he viewed the movie, nor the fact that he’s reviewing an unfinished picture. Film Comment, a house organ of the Film Society (where I once worked in the 80s), is eager to fan the flames for their opening night film, which I cannot wait to see. But they clearly took advantage of a programmer’s access to early screenings to jump way ahead of the fray. And ignored the current rules of engagement.
That said, Foundas is always a pleasure to read: I still bewail his loss as a full-time film critic and look forward to more Film Comment pieces. Here’s a snippet of the review:
The Social Network is splendid entertainment from a master storyteller, packed with energetic incident and surprising performances (not least from Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, who’s like Zuckerberg’s flamboyant, West Coast id). It is a movie of people typing in front of computer screens and talking in rooms that is as suspenseful as any more obvious thriller. But this is also social commentary so perceptive that it may be regarded by future generations the way we now look to Gatsby for its acute distillation of Jazz Age decadence. There is, in all of Fincher’s work, an outsider’s restlessness that chafes at the intractable rules of “polite” society and naturally aligns itself with characters like the journalist refusing to abandon the case in Zodiac and Edward Norton’s modern-day Dr. Jekyll in Fight Club. (It is also, I would argue, what makes the undying-love mawkishness of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seem particularly insincere.) So The Social Network offers a despairing snapshot of society at the dawn of the 21st century, so advanced, so “connected,” yet so closed and constrained by all the centuries-old prejudices and preconceptions about how our heroes and villains are supposed to look, sound, and act. For Mark Zuckerberg has arrived, and yet still seems unsettled and out of place (as anyone who witnessed his painfully awkward 60 Minutes interview two years back can attest). And now here is a movie made to remind us that nothing in this life can turn a Zuckerberg into a Winklevoss.