Saturday, February 26, 2011

Debris Slide Covers the Oscars

Of all this year's nominees for Best Picture that I've seen, the best is clearly The Social Network. It's also the only one I've seen, but that's neither here nor there. Aaron Sorkin is supposedly the odds-on favorite for Best Adapted Screenplay, but I gotta say, the script wasn't all that great, and Aaron Sorkin is the most overrated screenwriter on the planet.

He's very witty and entertaining; his lines can snap with authority and humor. He's obviously a very bright guy. The problem is that he makes every person talk in exactly the same style, using the same sort of pronunciamentos. He cannot modulate his word choices to reflect the way that different people speak; he cannot use language to denote character. And because he's trying to write the snappiest banter he can think of, it comes out sounding like no human being has ever sounded. The typical Aaron Sorkin scene goes like this:

CHARACTER: Witty declarative statement.

OTHER CHARACTER: Unconnected witty declarative statement.

CHARACTER: Question prompted by nothing in particular?

OTHER CHARACTER: Very witty declarative statement.

It's no coincidence that his projects, like this one set at Harvard or "The West Wing," invariably take place among the best and the brightest. It's impossible to imagine Aaron Sorkin writing for a character who isn't as smart as Aaron Sorkin.

Am I complaining too much? The dialogue is crisp and often laugh-out-loud funny and, thankfully, a lot of it is taken directly from the depositions that occupy much of the film's running time; in those scenes, you can hear people actually communicating with one another. Plus, Jesse Eisenberg deserves some sort of statuette for wrestling a real, well-defined character out of this screenplay. In fact, Sorkin's brilliant but isolated language seems a good fit for the Asperger's-ish Mark Zuckerberg.

One other note: I assumed that Sean Parker, the character played by Justin Timberlake, had to have his name changed for some sort of legal reason, since everybody knows the founder of Napster was really named Shawn Fanning. It turns out that there is a Sean Parker who was involved in Napster and later Facebook; it's a different guy. But in the scene where Parker is introduced, he mentioned that he founded Napster, and the Stanford-panty-wearing girl he's with immediately recognizes him as Sean Parker. Nobody would do that. She would have thought he was Shawn Fanning. I wonder if Aaron Sorkin knows who Shawn Fanning is.


  1. I would swear that the Parker character was specifically linked to Napster more than once.

    That breakdown on Sorkin's writing is terrific, by the way.

  2. Wish I could agree about Jesse Eisenberg. I thought he came across as something of a one-trick pony.

    (I assume you saw Sorkin's cameo?)

  3. I see your point, but one trick was more than some of the other actors were able to wrest out of that script.

  4. Excellent points on Sorkin! I tend to agree. I don't know if you saw "Adventureland" but Jesse E's pretty great in that.

    I liked "The King's Speech" a lot, even if the title totally ruins the plot. I mean, why didn't they just call it "The King's Assassination at the Hands of His German Spy of a Voice Teacher"?

    Sean Parker was pretty famous in 2000. The Stanford-panty girl probably saw his picture in Rolling Stone.

  5. Are you sure it was Sean Parker? I remember seeing Shawn Fanning's picture, dribbling a basketball in the Napster offices, but I don't recall seeing Sean Parker there. And believe me, I read a LOT of Rolling Stone in 2000.

  6. I remember that excellent Fanning basketball photo, that was the 2000 year-end issue. The photo with Parker (recently reprinted in Vanity Fair) was from my interview with Parker and Fanning, which was the summer of 2000. They had a bachelor pad in Burlingame with Britney posters on the wall...pretty sure he would have been appalled at the idea he'd get played in a movie by Justin!

  7. So you're saying that, in the end, Sean Parker and Britney both got played by Justin?