So-and-so wants to be friends.

I watched The Social Network a month or so ago, and going into it, I had high hopes. I used to count myself among Aaron Sorkin’s biggest fans, but he started to disappoint me midway through the third season of The West Wing (and after rewatching Season Three recently, I’m even clearer in that conviction — post to come at some point), I found Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip ultimately disappointing, and Charlie Wilson’s War didn’t really impress me a whole lot, either. But when the reviews for The Social Network were almost unanimously raving, I hoped that Sorkin had recaptured some of his earlier mojo. Alas…I was entertained, but ultimately, again I was not terribly impressed. I wonder if I’m over Sorkin completely.

I don’t have much to say about the story of The Social Network. Nor do I have much to say about the characters, because I’m starting to wonder if Aaron Sorkin has lost his ability to create characters with their own distinct voices. Or, putting it slightly differently, I’m wondering if he ever really had the ability to create characters with different voices, and instead relied on actors to give their characters voice. My problem is that everybody in this movie sounds the same – and they all sound the same as other characters in other Aaron Sorkin movies and teevee shows. It’s frustrating for me, wanting to like each new Sorkin project, and only end up hearing the same tropes he brings to every bit of dialog.

What do I mean? Things like: characters speaking in sentences that are longer than sentences found in nature. Conversations that loop back and forth, in which characters will refer back to things said earlier in the conversation using the exact same wording. The only affirmative response to any question being “Yeah.” One character will be stuck on a certain part of whatever project it is they’re working on, and then in the middle of a conversation on a completely unrelated topic, another character will just happen to say something that leads the first one to the breakthrough on the problem they’re stuck on. Sharp debates on issues will be somehow won by one side or the other, often without the benefit of an actual argument being made. Supremely arrogant characters will defend their arrogance on various grounds. Someone will say something along the lines of “X isn’t going to happen because of Y. X is going to happen because of Z.”

I was trying to cut the movie some slack along the way, trying to get involved, but the Sorkinisms just kept coming and kept coming and kept coming, until I finally had to admit that I just couldn’t get involved at all. The one that finally ejected me from the movie was during one of the court deposition scenes. The lawyer is following a line of questioning that Zuckerberg planned to cheat his onetime partner out of ownership of Facebook out of jealousy, and Zuckerberg fires back thusly:

Ma’am, I know you’ve done your homework, and so you know that money isn’t a big part of my life, but at the moment I could buy Mt. Auburn Street, take the Phoenix Club, and turn it into my ping-pong room.

This is supposed to make Mark Zuckerberg look confident and dismissive of the entire proceeding under which he is being sued for ownership of Facebook, but hearing that, all I could think of was another court deposition scene, almost identical in tone, from the Sorkin-scripted movie Malice, in which Alec Baldwin delivers his noted “You ask me if I have a God complex? I am God.” speech.

Ultimately, I just didn’t care about the people in this movie as I was watching it. I just didn’t. The creation of Facebook is probably one of the most important cultural events of the 2000s, but The Social Network, for all its long and circular speeches and its whiplash dialog, just didn’t make the behind-the-scenes story all that interesting to me. Nobody in this movie is sympathetic; nobody in this movie was anyone I really cared to know anything about. In Aaron Sorkin’s best work — The West Wing, The American President, A Few Good Men — there are characters to care about. In the things he’s done that didn’t impress me — Studio 60, The Social Network — all there is are people who say lots of neat-sounding things but whose problems don’t involve me one whit.

The film’s first scene has a girl telling Mark Zuckerberg that he’s an asshole, and that is ultimately the problem with the movie. Everybody in it is an asshole. And an asshole with lots of great speeches to give is still, in the end, an asshole.

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One Response to So-and-so wants to be friends.

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    I think it probably works better if you don't watch a lot of Sorkin, I suppose. I liked it, but it did have that arm's length style.

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