The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

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

October 20, 2010 |  1:17 pm

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