After watching (most of) the trailer for The Social Network in the theater the other day, I was reminded of a recent discussion about it at Living in Cinema in which I wondered aloud why this movie is being made in 2010.
It's not as if there was a recent New York Times-bestseller about the founding of Facebook and David Fincher and Sony Pictures are cashing in on the hype. (Update: I'm an idiot. Apparently there was such a book, "The Accidental Billionaires", written just last year. Has anyone read it?) It's not as if Facebook has changed or significantly evolved in recent years, aside from a growing user base and some negligible dust-ups about privacy. It's not as if Mark Zuckerberg is some megalomaniacal, misunderstood genius that the walls of Harvard just couldn't contain, or that his behavior could be considered anything other than extraordinarily normal for a 26 year-old with $4 billion in his pocket. And it's not as if the story behind Facebook, such as it's publicly known, is any more special than the story behind, say, AOL or Google.
So where does all of the emotional tension in the trailer come from? To me it just looks like (quoting from myself) "a manufactured drama. Like making an edgy dramatic thriller about the stolen iPhone prototype." I'm a big David Fincher fan, but his attachment to this initially confused me more than it excited me, and now that I've seen the trailer, I have to agree with many others that The Social Network perhaps should have been written by Aaron Sorkin as a comedy or dramedy instead, and maybe handed off to Cameron Crowe or Richard Linklater to direct.
The tone of the trailer aside, what grand insights are we to expect from the story anyway? It's not that I don't find the history behind social phenomena like Facebook interesting - but they are not inherently interesting.
Firstly, the characters behind the scenes need to be distinctively quirky or somehow significantly different than you and me. Take Mark Cuban, for example, who is not known nearly as much for his online and computer software entrepreneurship as he is his outrageous behavior on the sidelines of Dallas Mavericks games. Would I want to watch a movie about "the story behind" MicroSolutions or Audionet? Of course not, but at the very least Cuban would make for a better movie character than Zuckerberg or his friends. It should say something that Justin Timberlake is featured prominently in The Social Network as Napster founder Sean Parker, another dynamic personality like Cuban that may have actually been able to carry a story a like this.
Secondly, history is not on the side of this movie. Facebook is not even a decade old, and while its current social significance is undeniable, a historical perspective is clearly lacking (even Zuckerberg has said he'd "wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive."). Why can't this movie wait another decade or two? As Bob Clark said so well at LiC:
"A good example of how to do a techno-corporate drama correctly is the old TNT-movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley”, starring Anthony Michael Hall as a ruthless Bill Gates and Noah Wyle as a douche-y Steve Jobs. First, there was enough time for all the advent of the modern personal computer to mean something to the average joe. Second, the battles between the companies had been high-profile enough for its players to be household names. Third, there was something of a closure-ending with Gates’ triumph with Windows 95 (sure, Apple surged ahead a few years later by rebranding themselves as a yuppie-chic toystore, but still, it made sense at the time).All this being said, I'm going to see The Social Network because I've just spent all this time analyzing the stupid trailer. Also, my aforementioned David Fincher fandom.
Fourth, the movie never took itself too goddamn seriously. It has fun with the periods, the characters, the story. As much as it’s your standard based-on-a-true-story tele-film, it’s also a great little piece of it’s-too-funny/ugly-to-be-fake satire, as well. A clever little riff that knew it had about as much depth as the half-hearted jokes in an article from Time magazine. An honest, humble black comedy."
But to illustrate everything I've said here visually, I give you the much buzzed-about trailer for the film, followed by the brilliant parody trailer for a (currently) fictional movie about "the story behind" YouTube:
The Social Network
The Video Website