Young stars speak out on ‘The Social Network’

Posted by · 11:51 am · January 27th, 2011

Newly minted Oscar nominee James Franco caused a bit of a ripple in the blogosphere the other day by casually slighting “The Social Network” — claiming the film fails to deal with the communication revolution that (to his mind) it’s supposed to be about, and further suggesting that its approach is too “classical” (read: conservative) for the subject.

Naturally, given that he’s the star of one of the film’s Best Picture rivals, he couldn’t resist drawing comparisons to his own baby, declaring “127 Hours” both “perfect” and “the most innovative movie this year.”

I’d take issue with both halves of Franco’s argument — as much as I (and I suspect Franco too) would like David Fincher’s film to focus on the politics of social networking itself, that isn’t its intent. Neither am I convinced that “127 Hours,” which uses familiar, even dated, formal flash to enliven its minimalist narrative, is as innovative as the actor claims it is.

Still, Francos’ understandable loyalty to his own film means his comments shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and while some have claimed that it’s inappropriate for an Oscar host to knock a leading contender, it represents no more severe a conflict of interests than hiring an inevitable nominee as host in the first place. Impartiality was taken off the table long ago.

More interesting, and more considered, are some recent comments on “The Social Network” from the star of yet another Best Picture nominee, “Inception”‘s Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Writing an open letter to critic Peter Travers on his blog, Gordon-Levitt expresses admiration for the “impeccable” film, but finds fault with the “story of a generation” claims that Travers (among many others) has made for it:

[O]n behalf of we who are inheriting a new earth connected by the Internet, I must raise my hand to say that while Mr. Fincher’s Facebook drama certainly nails a lot of today’s more ominous trends, this story only tells half of our tale … The Social Network sounds a pertinent alarm against some arguably unhealthy ways our culture is currently using new communication technology, but to say that this film defines a generation is to dismiss the sense of community, the shared empathy, and the collective beauty that our new connectivity has allowed us this past decade.  This generation, my generation, we are reaching out to each other, communicating with one another, and creating a shared world in ways no prior generation could have.

The actor’s elegant argument ties in nicely with a discussion Kris, Anne and I had on a December episode of Oscar Talk, in which Kris also took against the idea that the film exists, or even wants to exist, as an articulation of the zeitgeist. When push comes to shove, after all, “The Social Network” is a hard character study of an abnormal, even dysfunctional, man — it’d be a mistake to read Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg as any kind of totem figure for his generation.

Gordon-Levitt’s argument is more supportive than Franco’s, but it’s still interesting that two young industry figures — each with their own horse in the current awards derby — have sought to question the weight being placed on a frontrunner’s shoulders. Now, what does Jennifer Lawrence think?

Check out the rest of Gordon-Levitt’s letter/essay here; Franco’s statements, meanwhile, are in the video below:

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62 responses so far

  • 1 1-28-2011 at 2:02 am

    Kevin K. said...

    I think everyone is either misreading Joseph Gordon Levitt’s essay, or getting away form the point of it. He doesn’t take any issue with the film itself. Read the whole thing. He’s calling out Travers’ rhetoric and flimsy logic more than anything.

  • 2 1-28-2011 at 4:34 am

    JJ1 said...

    Firstly, I am a 30 yr. old male who lives on facebook. I enjoy it. And I don’t think The Social Network has much to say about my generation or people 7-12 years younger than me. It IS about friendship, betrayal, and how power corrupts. If someone wants to take it a different way or make it a zeitgeist, than that’s fine for them. I don’t think it is, at all.

    And on Ryan Reynolds and Buried (regarding Franco) – one of my friends (who liked 127 Hours) just texted me last night that he saw ‘Buried’ with Ryan Reynolds and said it was “f*cking fantastic!”

  • 3 1-28-2011 at 4:39 am

    JJ1 said...

    Ha, in fact, this talk of ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Buried’ (6-time Oscar nom versus nothing) reminds me of 2005’s ‘Capote’ and 2006’s ‘Infamous (Oscar-winning portrayal in a multi-nominated film versus nothing) … and I believe ‘Infamous’ was just as good, if not better than ‘Capote’.

    I haven’t seen ‘Buried’ yet, but I wonder …

  • 4 1-28-2011 at 5:30 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    You guys are forgetting 2010’s first (and best) confined-space drama, “Frozen.”

  • 5 1-28-2011 at 5:39 am

    JJ1 said...

    Oh, that’s right. Heading off to netflix now. :)

  • 6 1-28-2011 at 8:18 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    Frozen started of well enough but when the wolves entered the picture it became too ridiculous for me.

    Also I posted Peter Travers response to JGL here but my comment is still awaiting moderation.

  • 7 1-28-2011 at 8:25 am

    Maito said...

    It’s thrilling that James Franco was satisfied with his own film, no really, good for him. With his track-record it’s not something one takes for granted. Perhaps it’s kind of gauche for the host to promote his own film at the expense of a fellow nominee, but since his complaints are too soft to really register as a calculated take-down, I guess it’s no biggie. It’s not like he’s not allowed to have an opinion. Hell, maybe they could even utilize some of his quotes on a few 127 Hours TV-spots: “Perfect! The most innovative film of the year! — Oscar nominee James Franco.” Two words: Opening. Day.

    [i]TSN’s approach is too “classical”[/i]

    Yes indeedy and thank God for that. Like with The Hurt Locker last year, it really has no need for a soapbox when the filmmaking chops are this impressive and I personally don’t come across enough classically oriented directorial masterclasses that I’d be bored with them. Bring ’em on.

    So many film buffs seem to feel the need to publicly establish their “I think for myself” -cred by going against a well-established movie, like TSN, which is definitely fair enough and their prerogative… but doesn’t approaching it from the “defining a generation -angle” (which clearly originates from Peter Travers and the Sony hype-machine more so than from Sorkin/Fincher) speak volumes about their inability to look past the established opinion (skewered by marketing) and actually go to the film without baggage? You know and actually judge the film based on what it was trying to achieve and stuff. From my vantage point they kinda seem to be failing on the “think for yourself” -front.

    Sony marketing department did a monumental disservice for the film by going with Travers’ hyper-excited-sloppily-thought-out- love letter. Of all the raves the film received that was definitely not the right conversation starter.

    I’ve loved Franco since Freaks and Geeks, but that interview was painful to watch. Maybe he was just, uh, sleep deprived or something.

  • 8 1-28-2011 at 9:10 am

    red_wine said...

    OT but let me take this opportunity to mention an obvious truth, Peter Travers is a fucking idiot and a disgrace to his profession. But great discussion guys, carry on.

  • 9 1-28-2011 at 9:14 am

    David Ehrenstein said...

    Well it’s very nice of Franco to hang aroud Starbucks so everyone can get a good look at him (with the sexiest ovebit sicne Gene Tierny) That’s his job as a n actor. But he’s wrong about The Social Network and Joe Gordon-Levitt is only half right. “Facebook” is the film’s MacGuffin. It’s not about internet communication at all, but friendship, betrayal and high capitalism. . It’s gone though a cycle of being praised for the wrong reasons (the character’s faults aren’t of THIS generation but EVRY one) to being put-down to the degree that I fear the film is going to end up being underrated.

  • 10 1-28-2011 at 9:29 am

    red_wine said...

    Social Network could never in a million years be called underrated. But watch it being called so when it looses the Best Picture Oscar.

  • 11 1-28-2011 at 9:38 am

    niks4u said...

    Even though I totally enjoyed The Social Network and think that Andrew Garfield was wrongfully snubbed by the Academy, this whole talk of the movie representing my generation seems totally idiotic to me.
    Just because the movie talks about the origin of one of the biggest phenomenon of our times, doesn’t means that it shows how this generation works or thinks.
    Screwing friends for money is not something that my generation has invented and certainly not stealing ideas from our peers. They go back to the origin of our species.
    The Social Network is a well made movie about how a genius’ desire for greatness was marred by his ruthlessness from the point of view of some people who were knocked over by him and a friend who was wronged.
    Even in that respect the movie is incomplete because it just tells a point of view and does not take a neutral view.
    But there is no denying that the movie is incredibly well made with some great acting. It deserves all the goodwill that it is generating but to say that this movie tells the story of this generation is as insane as saying that its crap.

  • 12 1-28-2011 at 9:59 am

    Maito said...

    Travers is harmless. It’s some of the TSN behind the scenes players who got too greedy and overkilled with the ad campaigns.

    TSN should be touted as an event movie because of the dream-team talent involved possibly hitting career-high marks, not because it’s super-duper-topical. Fincher showed levelheadedness by trying to hit the breaks with this ill-advised narrative, but it was too little too late and it looks like a runaway train now.