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Variety editors click through ‘The Social Network’

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Variety Editorial Director Peter Bart saw ‘The Social Network.’ So did Variety Executive Editor Steven Gaydos. Both came away with different take on the film, which is generating buzz as the industry heads into the fall. (See also Justin Chang’s review of the film, posted on Tuesday, Sept. 21.) Here’s their discussion:

Bart-debate PETER BART: One reason I admire “The Social Network” is that it breaks several fundamental rules of movie story-telling. There is no “good guy” protagonist. There is no “heavy.” There is no jeopardy. There is no satisfying resolution. And there is far too much dialogue – I’m told the shooting script came in at over 160 pages. Yet the whole thing works. I agree with the comment of Justin Chang that the movie “moves like a speedboat across two hours of near nonstop talk.” My hat’s off to David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin for breaking the rules and still serving up a compelling and fascinating film.

Gaydos-debate STEVEN GAYDOS: I would be more in awe of the rule breaking if I weren’t so aware of the film’s rule-following, ie standard TV episodic and cable movie biopic tropes and conventions.

It’s a glamorous world of privilege and power, dissected over a civil suit deposition table where talking heads chatter endlessly about What It All Means. From “West Wing” to “Law and Order” ad infinitum, this is the universe of the film and I’m not sure where it challenges or redefines the contours of that universe.  And as in most TV films, naturalism and spontaneity are out the window, replaced by reams of exposition and ponderously Important Moments. It’s fast-moving, yes, but at the expense of hectoring and lecturing and in place of allowing the audience the pleasures of discovery and the luxury of unraveling life-like moments capable of surprise.

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Bart-debate BART: Sure there are problems, but on the other hand “The Social Network” introduces us to a whole new universe of bizarre characters. Our movies and TV shows aren’t inhabited by cerebral, kid-visionaries like Mark Zuckerberg or Sean Parker whose ideas change society, who impulsively turn away billion dollar deals or who start and flee companies like Napster and Facebook. Not only did Aaron Sorkin manage to capture these kids in all their egocentric eccentricities but Fincher managed to cast them superbly – I would never have conceived Justin Timberlake as playing a fast-talking sociopath like Parker, but he brings it off big time.

Gaydos-debate GAYDOS: For me, “The Social Network” is essentially “Temple Grandin” with better clothes and more money. Both films’ lead characters overcome tremendous obstacles and find ways to battle isolation and channel their ample intellectual gifts into amazingly productive and succesful contributions to society. Key difference: at the fade-out, Grandin’s soul seems intact, which is her triumph after all she went through and Zuckerberg’s soul was lost somewhere on the Harvard quad. That is assuming he had a soul and Harvard has a quad. PS: You should watch “Alpha Dog.” Timberlake is terrific (and fairly off the wall) in that one too.

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Bart-debate BART: What you say has some validity, but to me there was a fascinating poignancy to “The Social Network.” Here’s a story about how a gawky friendless nerd who inadvertently creates a vast network of “friends” for other needy nerds who’ve been both linked and isolated in the vastness of the web. When we first come upon Mark Zuckerberg, he is messing up his relationship with his only girlfriend and when we leave him he is both mind-bendingly wealthy but even more isolated by money and power. No, this isn’t a “moving” movie in the conventional sense, but its subtle messages are profound and important to its time.

Gaydos-debate GAYDOS: He has a girlfriend in the movie? Wow, I missed that. I saw him chatting up “The Next Girl With the Updated Dragon Tattoo” in the opening, but after that I think they had less screen time together than Arnold, Bruce and Sly in “The Expendables.” We’re not talking Rhett and Scarlett here. As for the messages for our time, to learn that a Harvard-educated computer geek is willing to sell out his friends for a few billion dollars, well, that also ain’t Fred C. Dobbs and “Sierra Madre.” This isn’t man bites dog, Peter. It isn’t even computer bytes nerd. And one more complaint: why is all the grit of being young and going beserko with drugs and sex so Goddamned antiseptic in this film? I would have liked it better if all that Silicon Valley partying led to one “Hangover” type moment. This film needed less Andy Hardy and more Andy Warhol, less Fincher, more Morrissey. Which leads me to the real love story: by the time Garfield shows up in California sopping wet and dewier of eye than Bambi’s mother, I was ready to yell at him and Eisenberg, “GET A HOMEPAGE ALREADY!”