Defriending ‘The Social Network’

Posted by · 3:39 pm · August 22nd, 2010

With David Fincher’s “The Social Network” already accruing positive buzz ahead of its New York Film Festival premiere next month, its handlers would do well to pre-empt the inevitable pushback over matters of factual accuracy — complaints that have already dogged the film’s sloppy source book, Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires” (discussed at length in Page to Screen here).

No one will (or should) be seeing “The Social Network” for an exhaustive journalistic essay on the origins of Facebook. Rather, what we’re hoping for from writer Aaron Sorkin is a tangy interpretation of the facts that reaches for broader truths about the social-networking generation; dramatic flexibility, then, is the order of the day. Needless to say, the powers behind Facebook, including founder (and “Social Network” protagonist) Mark Zuckerberg, don’t quite see things that way. This recent New York Times piece goes into the friction between them and the film’s producers.

From the NYT:

Scott Rudin, a producer of “The Social Network,” said two top Facebook executives … “saw the movie a while ago, and they do not like it.” Mr. Rudin described months of backdoor contacts during which he tried to ease relations with Mr. Zuckerberg by letting colleagues of the Facebook chief read the script, and even by accommodating them with small changes. Facebook had insisted on bigger changes, which the producers declined to make. In the end, Mr. Rudin said, “We made exactly the movie we wanted to make.”

In a recent onstage interview, [Zuckerberg] said, “Honestly, I wish that when people try to do journalism or write stuff about Facebook that they at least try to get it right.” He later added, “The movie is fiction.”

I have not read Sorkin’s script, but unless it drastically deviates from the tone set by Mezrich’s book, I can’t see why Zuckerberg or his Facebook associates should be particularly concerned about the film — the usual “based on true events” factual niggles notwithstanding. The circumstances leading to its ubiquity may not be shown in a particularly noble light, but Facebook itself is rather flatteringly depicted as a revolutionary communication device.

Similarly, Zuckerberg may be presented as a socially maladroit eccentric, but he’s no villain; Mezrich’s skimpily researched book may align its sympathies more overtly with Zuckerberg’s slighted colleague (and willing interviewee) Eduardo Saverin (played in the film by Andrew Garfield), but it’s plainly Zuckerberg who’s the brilliant, vulnerable anti-hero of the piece. By adding an intimate human dimension to a hitherto, well, faceless coporate entity, it seems to me “The Social Network” could end up doing Facebook more good than harm in the public consciousness.

This issue — plus any other complaints about liberties taken with the truth — will likely be a mere gnat in the film’s ear if it continues to track (and ultimately play) so strongly. Anne Thompson, however, raises the not-unreasonable question of whether the film (still two months from release) is at risk of peaking too early in terms of publicity and awards buzz, after this week’s leaked rave reviews and general spike in chatter prompted some to label it the presumptive Oscar frontrunner. As the producers of “Atonement,” “Up in the Air” and David Fincher’s last feature can tell you, nobody likes being labelled the one to beat before the games have even begun.

[Photo: Screencrave]

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22 responses so far

  • 1 8-22-2010 at 3:53 pm

    MovieMan said...

    I’m hoping for something big out of it, honestly, but we’ll see. I, for one, thought Fincher’s last film was probably the most hauntingly brilliant of the decade (or close to it) and should have labelled the one to beat. And considering I was decidedly not a fan of the one that did beat it…well, I was disappointed on Oscar night to say the least.

    But “The Social Network” has a much different pull than “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” because more is expected out of it. True stories are a dime a dozen. Whether they succeed or not is subjective to say the least. People might love the outcome, such as with “The Blind Side,” or hate it, such as with “Eat Pray Love.” Lord knows I was exactly opposite on both of those points of view.

    I’m a big fan of Mezrich’s book, so I would say my expectations are a bit different than yours, Guy. Not jumping on you at all, though, because it’s the truth. Mezrich’s other major work was “Bringing Down the House,” whose adaptation (“21”) I thought was insanely underrated. I can only hope that “The Social Network” succeeds as well as that one. Whether that super-early review or the whispered four-star rating from Peter Travers is any indication to the film’s quality is the Big Question. But we won’t know for sure. Oscar frontrunner? Fincher is long overdue, so we can hope to hope.

  • 2 8-22-2010 at 3:56 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Or should I say, “But we won’t know for sure until more people see it.” And in fact, we still won’t know until each of us sees it. I don’t think we should label it as a frontrunner until it’s absolutely apparent that it is. The inevitable NYFF buzz will be the big indicator.

  • 3 8-22-2010 at 4:08 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “I, for one, thought Fincher’s last film was probably the most hauntingly brilliant of the decade”

    Different strokes, and all that. But… wow.

  • 4 8-22-2010 at 4:43 pm

    Tim said...

    I dunno, maybe ‘The Social Network’ is getting so much hype because this awards season is looking like its shaping up to be rather dull. Three contenders have already come and gone and none look likely to pick up the big prize(talking about Kids, Inception and Toy Story). ‘The Social Network’ just looks like the perfect Oscar winner at this point… smart script, overdue director, brilliant up-and-coming cast, and its got the whole “well its timely” thing going for it. And if these early reviews are any indication, it sounds like its pretty damn good. I’m personally really looking forward to it, not that that means much. But other than ‘Black Swan’, ‘The Fighter’, ‘True Grit’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, ‘Love and Other Drugs, and ‘Harry Potter’ I’m not really jumping up and down for this fall movie season.

  • 5 8-22-2010 at 4:44 pm

    Michael said...

    If this fizzes critically speaking, then there goes one of 2010’s major contenders. Maybe “Twilight: Breaking Eclipse’s New Moon Dawn” will be one of the ten the Academy chooses.

  • 6 8-22-2010 at 4:45 pm

    Drew said...

    Backlash will be inevitable not matter when or how the movie is released. I’ve always expected Social Network to be a multiple nominee that gets shut-out completley oscar night while it plays more modestly with the general public. I don’t honestly see too many people my own age flooding movie theaters to see it.

  • 7 8-22-2010 at 4:50 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    What age is that, Drew? Interested to know who the film’s speaking to.

  • 8 8-22-2010 at 5:13 pm

    Bradley Porter said...

    Everyone, literally everyone I know who has seen the trailer and/or heard about the combination of Fincher, Sorkin and (strrangely) Eisenberg can’t wait to see The Social Network. It seems around Bristol University at least Jesse Eisenberg is the closest thing to a sure thing since Adventureland and Zombieland. Regardless my parents are excited, everyone in my house and on my course (aged between 21 and 32) can’t wait…

    It seems timely, and will speak to a generation regardless of how the eventual box office pans out…

  • 9 8-22-2010 at 5:23 pm

    James D. said...

    I like every other film Fincher makes (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac), so therefore, I will like The Social Network.

  • 10 8-22-2010 at 5:37 pm

    Cordy said...

    Guy, I am willing to bet that Drew may be around my age (23). All of my friends see it just as the facebook movie, which doesn’t interest them, which I find kind of odd since I never use facebook, and never use it and most of them are always on it. Also they don’t have any interest in the talent behind it, as none of them follow movies very closely. Jesse Eisenberg may be the biggest selling point for them until some reviews come out, and they start to target it as more of what it most likely isn’t (if that makes any sense).

    Not many of my friends/family see many movies that I don’t reccommend if they’re not ‘big’ movies until much later in the years, and I see this just as being one of those that people may see more of after the nominations/and the few possible victories.

    I personally think this is the most well-rounded and oscar-friendly movie coming out in the fall, so I could see it taking picture/director/screenplay and maybe one acting (Garfield, but most likely not), as well as some below the lines.

  • 11 8-22-2010 at 6:08 pm

    m1 said...

    Forget the buzz!!! I just want to see a picture of Rooney Mara!

  • 12 8-22-2010 at 6:16 pm

    Andrew M said...

    I can not wait for this film. Both my parents are excited, and so is my sister. My friends aren’t that much, but they aren’t really interested in film any way, but maybe when reviews/TV spots come out they will be. I can really see this winning picture, director, and screenplay if it plays well with critics and doesn’t get so much early praise-backlash. Also, I can see Garfield (and maybe Eisenberg) getting a nod., but not a win because he is so young.

  • 13 8-22-2010 at 6:34 pm

    Ivan said...

    I hope The Social Network will be in the group of…
    Seven/Fight Club/Zodiac

    instead of the group of
    Alien 3/The Game/Panic Room or the worst TCOBB

  • 14 8-22-2010 at 7:30 pm

    Bryan said...

    Why all the Benjamin Button hate? Ok, so it was “different” from everything else he’s made. So what? It’s a beautifully written movie with a subtle performance from Cate Blanchett, and not to mention the best score from 2008. Look again.

  • 15 8-22-2010 at 8:18 pm

    Drew said...

    Thank you Cordy. And yes many people I know who are my age have written it off as “the facebook movie.” Even those who are Fincher fans, mainly because they liked all the violence in Seven and Fight Club, are skeptical because to them it seems like Fincher and Sorkin are trying to cash in on a pop-culture craze. Most of them also regard Eisenberg as being just another Micheal Cera. Shows how much they know about movies, but sadly, I think this might be a greater consensus then some would estimate.

  • 16 8-22-2010 at 8:37 pm

    Hans said...

    Yep, just recently I had to counter a Facebook status by my friend (“There’s a Facebook movie coming out? How lame is that.”) and his susbsequent commenters that it’s by the same director as “Fight Club”, and that alone turned the tide a bit. To them, like Drew said, it’s another movie trying to cash in on a fad (though I hesitate to call it that because, really, what in the foreseeable future could kill it?) like a “Bratz” movie or a Justin Bieber biopic.

  • 17 8-23-2010 at 2:09 am

    Dooby said...

    @movieman Agreed, I too was a fan of Benjamin Button and not of Slumdog Millionaire. Cate Blanchett should’ve got an oscar nom for it.

    The whole facebook based film just doesn’t appeal to me, but I love fincher’s other films so this one still seems to be the one to go to see.

  • 18 8-23-2010 at 11:20 am

    MovieMan said...

    I see that myself and Roger Ebert are the only nonfans of “Fight Club” around here, unless Guy didn’t like it, in which case, well, there’s three of us. Just something I noticed…

  • 19 8-23-2010 at 11:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Nope, just the two of you.

  • 20 8-23-2010 at 12:21 pm

    Jack said...

    I’d also like to throw out my support for Benjamin Button; every aspect of it was absolutely beautiful, and I think it’s a lot deeper, more cynical, and more complex than most people give it credit for.

    But Fincher has done no wrong in my book (although, to be fair, I haven’t seen Alien 3), I really like what I’ve seen of The West Wing, and I love Andrew Garfield. So count me in.

  • 21 8-23-2010 at 12:27 pm

    DarkLayers said...

    Guy, I think the reason why fb folk might be po-ed about this is that even the impression of Zuckerberg isn’t entirely unfavorable, they might have trouble with characterizing Mark Z. as greedy or selfish when the situations are skewed and many details are fictional.

    I’m still looking forward to it.

    As for all the buzz, I think it’s partly due to uncertainty. We have maybe 5 movies that seem to have a plausible chance as a nomination: Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right, Another Year, Winter’s Bone, and Inception. We’re all looking towards the fall waiting for other movies to make their mark.

    Travers and Foundas’ stuff confirm the hunches surrounding The Social Network. On the notion of advance hype, has any Oscar winning movie actually followed from advance hype claiming it’s next year’s BP all the way up to the podium?

  • 22 8-23-2010 at 12:56 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Well, we all saw that sweep for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” coming a full two years in advance. And occasionally the de facto frontrunner does cruise through unimpeded, recent(ish) examples being “Schindler’s List” and “Forrest Gump.”