Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!
Review — The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network opens unusually. After the studio logo, we dissolve into a conversation between two people who are assumed to be a couple, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) and Erica (Rooney Mara). This might be the longest dialogue scene in the film and at first it’s unclear as to the overall importance of this scene. After breaking up with Erica, Mark heads back to his Harvard dormitory to blog about the disheartening experience.
It’s Fall 2003, when all the rage of the social networking moment is Myspace and Friendster. But Mark does the unthinkable, and, with help from his whiz kid buddy Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), as well as an idea from another trio who would go on to sue Mark for all he’s worth, creates an exclusive online social community for Harvard students to gleefully stalk their friends and foes.
Of course this spark of an idea led to a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that took over the world in a matter of years and made Mark Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire alive today. This film delves into, with devilish detail, the problems that arose in Mark’s quest to make Facebook bigger and better, creating tension between him and his partner Eduardo, as well as a suspicious friendship with Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).
David Fincher has made a lot of great films. Since Seven, he has directed seven good and/or great features, and he is currently in production on the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. While Fight Club remains his great epic masterpiece of craziness, The Social Network may very well be the best film he’s ever made. Everything just comes together so beautifully in this.
It doesn’t happen often. Usually there will be a decent script but poor acting, or an ensemble cast that has three great actors and two bad ones. The Social Network is that special film that comes along every once in awhile where all the pieces fit together to create a movie that’s effortlessly entertaining.
While it makes sense that Aaron Sorkin would write a script like this — the film is comprised of scenes of dialogue, after all — his ear for dialogue when it comes to college students is particularly notable considering Sorkin is forty-nine years old. He wrote the winning The American President fifteen years ago, but he also wrote the lugubrious bore Charlie Wilson’s War. He clearly has hits and misses when it comes to his scripts, but he doesn’t disappoint here with a screenplay that is richly textured and epic in scope without being preachy and boring.
Given that it’s a character and dialogue driven film, The Social Network rests on the shoulders of its actors, and everyone — the leads, the supporting actors, the day players — are perfectly cast in this. There isn’t a single actor who feels out of place here. It’s startling at first to see Justin Timberlake — he doesn’t appear until halfway through the film — but even he is terrific in this. David Fincher has some kind of magical kinship with his actors and always seems to bring out the best in each one he works with.
Jesse Eisenberg worked toward this character for years. His breakthrough performance in The Squid and the Whale was the first step toward greatness, then his one-two punch last year with the two “land” movies — Adventureland and Zombieland — positioned him as the go-to lovable leading man geek. Eisenberg had to know going into this project that he had an opportunity here to truly shine like he never had before, and he does, to sheer perfection, creating a portrait of a young man who got way too far way too fast, a lost soul who might crumble under the weight of his own isolation toward everyone around him.
The rest of the cast is spot-on, including Andrew Garfield, who gave an equally impressive performance in Never Let Me Go, delivering one of the great emotional moments toward the end with chilling restraint; Justin Timberlake, who proves yet again that with the right material and the right director, magic can happen; and Armie Hammer, who offers up the only optical illusion in the movie, playing both of the twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Some may not even realize until later that one actor played both roles; it’s a stunning visual achievement.
And then there’s Rooney Mara. She’s the heart and soul of this movie, even though her character only appears three times during the movie, probably no more than five to ten minutes total. The opening scene might be the most genius of the entire movie, but the final scene, where she is seen but not heard, is the one that might be its most haunting of all.
Watching Like a Writer
The Social Network makes me think of how to integrate social media in my fiction. I write a lot of young adult fiction, so it always feels strange to me to avoid any of my characters looking at social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat. But using these apps in your fiction can also date the fiction if it’s read twenty, ten, even five years from now. It’s a balancing act that takes a lot of thought and consideration. Do I do away with social media in the writing completely? Do I have a character maybe obsessed with one of those apps? If you’re writing about older characters you might not have to worry about this problem so much, but if you’re writing young adult or even middle grade, it’s tricky to just avoid the social media dilemma altogether.
Think of the main character in your current WIP. Is he or she on social media? What would be his or her favorite of the sites, and how often would he or she use it?