The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Geez, I can't imagine who gave 'The Social Network' its first critical drubbing

September 29, 2010 |  5:04 pm

Jesse_eisenberg David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's "The Social Network" has a perfect 100 fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but that's only because the movie review aggregation site hasn't seen Armond White's newly published take-down of the film in the New York Press. Of course, if you obsessively keep track of film critics the way I do, you'd know that the only thing more predictable than White thumbing his nose at a much-loved movie would be discovering that Sen. James Inhofe has once again derided global warming as a hoax.

Even though he's twice been president of the New York Film Critics Circle (which surely gives us a tiny indication of just how sadomasochistic critics must be), White is best known as a critic who will go out of his way to heap abuse on almost any well-liked film, not to mention a number of well-liked critical peers, such as Roger Ebert, who has been on the wrong end of White's whupping stick on several occasions. White is so famously contrarian that Jim Vorel at the has dutifully compiled looooong list of movies White has dismissed as dreck of one kind or the other, including such lauded fare as "Avatar," "Up in the Air," "Up," "The Dark Knight," "Iron Man," "District 9" and "Slumdog Millionaire." (Heading the roster of films White has liked: "Norbit.") 

So even though everyone (including me) has been visibly impressed by "The Social Network's" great writing and compelling storytelling, White isn't having any of it. In his review, he dumps on everyone, starting with Sorkin, saying that the screenwriter's "approach to Zuckerberg's conduct is unctuous with fake significance, letting the protagonist's eminence excuse his reprehensible misbehavior." As for Fincher, White calls him "an affectless director who disregards the emotional impact of every scene and situation." White even offers a truly tortuous account of why the movie has been getting raves from most of his peers. Here's how he puts it:

"Hollywood and the journalism industries — both cowed by the Internet breathing down their necks — have perfected a method to curtail individual response to movies, thereby dictating widespread enthusiasm for this shallowly complicated film. To Fincher and Sorkin, Zuckerberg represents a new cultural avatar who (like other snarky Internet avengers) must be worshipped, not held to account."

I think White just said that people like me are fascinated by the movie because, ahem, we're afraid of looking like old fogies? Or because Hollywood has implanted good review silicon chips in our brains? If anyone has missed the point of the film, it's White, who ends his review by saying that "in 'The Social Network,' creepiness is heroized." To the contrary. Having seen the film, I can't recall even a brief moment when Sorkin romanticizes Mark Zuckerberg. If anything, the film portrays him as the year's most unlikable hero, a modern-day cousin to Budd Schulberg's Sammy Glick. And guess what? The film's refusal to endorse or sentimentalize Zuckerberg's behavior only makes him more interesting.  

Photo: Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in a scene from "The Social Network." Credit: Merrick Morton / Columbia TriStar Pictures