I feel like at this point I’ve talked “The Social Network” to death over a weekend of New York Film Festival-related social events. I saw it early Friday morning, and have ever since been in a remarkable minority in feeling slightly underwhelmed by it. It would be way easier to just love it as much as most folks do and coast through conversation with genuine agreement. But that hasn’t been the case, and it’s been awkward. For one, it’s not like I didn’t like the film. It’s very well-made and offers a variety of worthy elements I’ll detail in a bit. But because I wasn’t hailing it as the second coming of “Citizen Kane” or convinced it in any way “defined a generation,” I ended up feeling like I was criticizing it way more harshly than I wanted to. That also led me to start to question my own opinion, wondering if high expectations or the fact that it was an early morning screening after a night of little sleep affected how I felt. Which is a scary thing in the midst of seas of film-folk who know very much what they’re talking about. I’d have to exit the conversation and go through the film in my mind, re-asking myself what exactly it was that didn’t work for me. And in the end, I came to the same opinion: “The Social Network” is a very good movie, but it’s definitely not great. Though had I not gone into it expecting something close to mind-blowing, I admit I probably would have appreciated it a bit more easily.
So let’s do some appreciating before going into the opposite: David Fincher is obviously a skilled director, and Aaron Sorkin an excellent screenwriter, and most of “The Social Network” exemplifies this very well. It’s very entertaining, very tight, and often surprisingly quite funny. They get quite the performance out of Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, and if there’s anything perfect about “The Social Network,” it’s Eisenberg work. And perhaps Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s hypnotizing score… which added a necessary energy to the film (particularly in its first half) and made me go out and get the score immediately after (which has for me probably only happened ten times ever). And while Fincher and Sorkin – aided by Eisenberg, Reznor, Ross, and others (its DP Jeff Cronenweth does some inspired work, Rooney Mara is fantastic in a small but pivotal role, and Andrew Garfield continues to make me want to marry him), give us a good dozen doozies of scenes – from its magically scripted and acted opening sequence to numerous examples beyond it – in the end it just didn’t feel entirely realized. And that’s my main issue with “The Social Network.”
I felt like there was such momentum in its first two acts that its final act just didn’t feel like enough for me. I actually started to feel distanced from the film as it came to a conclusion, for a few reasons. For one, the courtroom scenes that organize the film often felt slightly lazy and obvious compared to the spirit of the rest of the film. I understand it was necessary to push the film forward and to negotiate the fact that three different points of view were expressing this story, but it just felt very cookie-cutter and very basic courtroom drama (like when Andrew Garfield’s character stares out the window deep in thought and then wheels himself back to face the negotiating table, or when lines like “I was your only friend!” are uttered). I also had a big problem with Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker. The second he arrived in the film (about mid-way through), I felt a little bit removed. I mean, he’s fine. This role is made for his persona, and that obviously worked for a lot of people. But for someone that’s not a big fan of his persona, I kept just waking up from the film’s enchantment and feeling like I was watching Justin Timberlake and not watching Sean Parker. I just felt like Timberlake was trying a bit too hard (especially compared to Eisenberg and Garfield, both of whom gave effortless-seeming performances), and more over, the fact that Timberlake’s character – one of the creators of Napster – makes multiple references to the music industry and his role in it felt a little too cute.
As the film’s conclusion neared, I kept waiting to get brought back in… To feel like “The Social Network” really had something to say. Something that would, as I’d walked into the film expecting, define not only a generation… but my generation. I was in the same university year as Mark Zuckerberg. We were born in the same year. His arguable invention has played an embarrassing drastic role in my day to day life over the past few years, and I feel like – more grandly – that Facebook has probably altered my overall identity more than I’d like to admit. So I had a lot riding on suggestions of “The Social Network”‘s definitiveness. I wanted to walk out of the film really feeling something strongly. But instead, it was more or less a feeling of basic cinematic satisfaction. A good story was – for the most part – told very well. But we’ve seen its core theme, which to me read something along the lines of “everybody just wants to be cool/popular/liked/etc,” many times before. I can relate, but it certainly didn’t feel like this story and these characters ended up saying anything particularly deep or profound.
Oddly enough, I saw another film I had great expectations for, Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” that same day. I was remarkably satisfied. While “The Social Network” dealt with a story about so much but ended up not saying enough… “Another Year” was a story about so little but said so, so much. I’d expand, but my flight to Iceland is moments away from leaving and I wanted to get this off my chest and on the blog before I headed to the magic land. So for what it’s worth, this was my “Social Network” rant.