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Who says there aren't any great one-liners in 'The Social Network'?

Jesse-eisenberg If I had a dollar for every screenwriter who called me Wednesday morning to complain about the New York Times story on the scarcity of memorable quips in 21st century movies, I could buy myself a great dinner at Arby's. I know the Times' Michael Cieply was simply trying to make the argument that movies today just aren't as sassy or smart as they used to be. That's certainly a fair point, but what really made the piece a buzzy must-read was the way it, perhaps unintentionally, made so many showbiz insiders look so bad.

It's hard to say who came out worse. First there was poor Larry Mark, producer of "Jerry Maguire." Flailing around, he was unable to offer up even one great zinger ("I will try my darndest to think of one") even though he's produced movies by such great wordsmiths as James Brooks and Nora Ephron. I mean, surely there must have been one gem in Ephron's "Julie and Julia" last year, but Mark couldn't call it to mind. And then there was Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman, who, given the opportunity to supply a transcendent snippet of dialogue, volunteered an embarassingly weak example from one of his own movies, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," which only reminded us of how rarely Fox, home of such films as "The A-Team" and "Predator," makes a film with any distinctive dialogue at all.

But what really aggravated my screenwriter pals was the response of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" scribe Eric Roth, who, as Cieply put it, "found himself scratching to find an unstoppable one-liner in 'The Social Network.' " Roth wondered aloud: "Is there a great line" in it? I would love to have been a fly on the wall, watching Aaron Sorkin's head spin as he read that at the breakfast table. As it turns out, the Vulture blog had no problem coming up with a Top 10 list of examples of dazzling dialogue from "The Social Network."

Here's three of my favorites:

1) "If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook."

2) "I'm 6-foot-2, 220, and there's two of me."

3) "A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? A billion dollars."

I don't think anyone would really argue that movies are as good -- or literate -- as they once were. If you want sparkling dialogue, you should be curled up in front of your TV, watching "30 Rock" or "Mad Men." But I suspect the real reason why movie dialogue seems so instantly forgettable today is that we actually do instantly forget things -- we have such a bad case of information overload, with a tidal wave of trivial sludge cascading into our brains everyday from the Web, that it's hard to hang on to those fleeting bits of writerly magic.   

Or maybe it's just that today's movies are too fluffy and harmless, full of characters who, by studio mandate, have to be sympathetic or likable. Most of the great quips are made about nasty pieces of work, which is perhaps why "The Social Network," with its acidic portrayal of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, has so many zingers. We need to bring back a new generation of bad guys. Or as J.J. Hunsecker says to Sidney Falco in "Sweet Smell of Success:" "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic."

Photo: "The Social Network" star Jesse Eisenberg at a photo call earlier this month in Madrid. Credit: Carlos Alvarez / Getty Images 

 

 
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Sad but true, so few contemporary movies have any kind of quotable lines. Surely "Borat" had some funny one liners. But the last movie I bought the screenplay for was "Naked" by Mike Leigh way back in 1993.
Here's one example:

"That's the trouble with everybody - you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new as long as it's new as long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors. So whatever else you can say about me, I'm not fuckin' bored."

Good stuff! Nothing American screenwriters have done lately compares.

It should be no surprise that "The Social Network," a movie about the Internet corporate giant, Facebook, and its co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has not one, but three memorable one-liners in it. A success story like Facebook's has real substance to it, so when writers put together a story for a movie adaptation, the writing process became a good experience with promising results, and that meant, in the case of "The Social Network," a number of good quotes. "If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook;" this is a great line from "The Social Network" that speaks the truth about the interesting history of Facebook, and what the creation of Facebook was really like. "I'm 6-foot-2, 220, and there's two of me;" this quote helps audiences recognize that Facebook's leader, Mark Zuckerberg, is in fact, a confident, passionate, and hardnosed executive in the world of competitive corporate culture. "A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool? A billion dollars;" this quote is symbolic of what competitive business in modern times is becoming, that of billion dollar companies who think big in terms of money and their capabilities. It's interesting that a film based on an actual corporate success story should produce the year's most memorable one-liners, but there should not be many reasons to wonder why, simply because of the incredible informational value that exists in "The Social Network," when considering its composition and production.

Brendan Ryan

The Brendan Ryan Company
Houston, Texas


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