Some films arrive with a fanfare of critical acclaim and a flurry of publicity and positive buzz. Since studio PR machines work overtime, such spin hardly guarantees greatness. Pedigree helps considerably; Aaron Sorkin, in spite of all his personal demons and occasional misfires, remains a critical darling, the smartest and cleverest fellow in just about any room. Director David Fincher hasn’t failed big yet either; critics are disposed to like whatever he delivers them, and so The Social Network opens with a golden stamp of near-universal pre-approval.
At the other end of the spectrum lies the all-heart no-head feel-good Touchstone comedy of class clown Andy Fickman; his You Again has proved a virtual punching bag for online and print critics; no holds have been barred in its reception, no cruel metaphor withheld, no stray negative thought left unexpressed. You Again has faced savage pummeling that completely defies common sense and proportion. Does any film deserve to be called a “cancerous lump”? Is Fincher’s latest the second coming of Citizen Kane? Is Kristen Bell the Antichrist and Jesse Eisenberg the Messiah? Might there be some sexism afoot? Have critics just plain lost their minds? Or is the truth out there somewhere in the infrequently trammeled middle ground? Has all this unseasonable Southern California heat melted my brain and turned my critical faculties to mush? What’s with all these questions? Have I morphed into an older and bitterer blogging Carrie Bradshaw? Stick with me, people. I have a point to make. Several, in fact.
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In This Corner
The Social Network is smart. The leading character is a fictionalized version of young billionaire and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, played with great wit and a simmering reserve of pain and suppressed anger by Jesse Eisenberg, valedictorian of The Michael Cera School of Neurotic Fast-Talking Urban (read: Jewish) Unlikely Swains. He’s really terrific here; we spend a few captivating hours wondering exactly how we feel about this guy. He’s an asshole with more than a hint of social awkwardness but an essential sweetness beneath a primal wound, a complicated computer programming genius with an unassailable work ethic. He stands in for screenwriter Sorkin; one gleans the writer’s passion in Zuckerberg’s defense. I’m a writer too, far less lauded than Sorkin but the victim nonetheless of an endless stream of pretenders and credit-seekers. No writer extant doesn’t know the hilarity of a muggle approaching at a party and offering an idea, an event, a life story, a premise, that they’re willing to share for a mere 50% of the profit. Work is work, people, and ideas are not worth much without the talent to flesh them out, not to mention the sweat equity — all those hours, weeks, years of follow-through. I get it. That’s the point here, and the point is well made. Very.
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In That Corner
You Again is a charming (if flawed) comedy with a heart of gold and a head that empties completely and unfortunately for the last few desperately dire minutes of an otherwise decent screenplay. Kristen Bell plays an adorable (if late-blooming) success story who comes home for her brother’s wedding; through a series of unfortunate (and funny) events, she devolves into the spitting image of her high school loser self in a matter of hours. Her high school nemesis complicates and spoils what should have been Bell’s triumph. Jamie Leigh Curtis plays her hapless happy homemaker mom whose own high school friend-turned-foe shows up to make her life miserable — in the gleaming and astonishingly intimidating personage of tycoon and glamazon Sigourney Weaver. There’s a point to all this silliness and some well-earned laughs along the way. When the film suffers a complete lapse of good sense, it stands to lose much of their audience’s good will in the final fatally flawed minutes. In a clumsy attempt to go for a big ending, a lot of the good stuff gets lost in the unfortunate muddle that ensues. Still, it’s not anywhere near as bad as the mostly blackhearted misogyny that blithely passes RomCom muster. Cough. The Ugly Truth. Cough. I suspect that men just plain don’t get it.
The Social Network leads the autumn pack of award-worthy drama. Like the first fall foliage, it presages wonderful things up ahead, and I’m grateful and more than willing to join the welcoming throng. Summer lasts way too long, and the pile-up of Oscar bait promises to overcrowd my holiday season. I’m always delirously happy to listen to intelligent people talking intelligently onscreen (or off); Sorkin’s a master of the very best dialogue-driven entertainment our nation has produced. His West Wing and Sports Night rank high in my personal TV pantheon, and he’s in fine form here.
We must give substantial credit to director Fincher too; watching two depositions and months of intense computer programming could have made for a very dull evening at the multiplex indeed. He manages to keep things moving without hyping the stakes too much or overheating the dramatic tension; the pieces pile up, organically building a compelling story much as Alan J. Pakula did in another great smart film about distinctly uncinematic goings-on, All The President’s Men. This comparison is no small compliment. The cast is flawless too, mostly convincingly ordinary and pitch perfect. Justin Timberlake plays a terrifically enticing devil to Eisenberg’s Faust, and as the plaintiffs in the two suits, relative newcomers Andrew Garfield and Josh Pence more than hold their own.
This is cinema of ideas, and the conversation veers away from the too-technical without straying into the bogus dumbed-down territory where most films wallow. Lawyers and computer prodigies are believable yet never dull. This is no small parlor trick, and you’ll leave the theater with plenty of food for thought and lively discussion.
The biggest thing you’ll wonder about after seeing You Again is what the hell all those savage critics had against this sweet and well-meaning little truffle. Excepting the last act (from the treehouse debacle onward, let’s say to avoid spoiling the already spoiled), it’s competent and clever. And it’s not nothing to see a cast of so many women of so many ages with something substantial to say about female friendships and revenge, family and forgiveness. These may not be big Important ideas, but they’re worth your time. Middle-aged and older women rarely get featured front and center, and it’s nice to see them all up there still doing what they do. You Again also features some truly surprising and delightful unbilled cameos I won’t give away; I simply wanted to put this Little Engine That Almost Could into the ring with a heavyweight champion just to consider the possibility that it unfairly faced a very raw (and probably sexist) deal and deserved better than its dead-on-arrival reception. Kristen Bell proves herself entirely worthy of carrying a comedy on her tiny and talented shoulders; she’s winning and convincing and a deft physical comedienne, and there are plenty of worse films that escaped the inexplicable drubbing this one got.
There’s little doubt who’s taking the title, right? The Social Network is a great film, intelligent and compelling and important without being dull. Of course, it wins handily in a fight with a lightweight like You Again, but other reviews aside, there’s an audience for both. So. Here’s the thing. See The Social Network. But if you’re a woman or a man who doesn’t hate women, you won’t hate You Again either. It’s faint praise, but dammit, it’s about time someone said something nice about it. It’s cute as a button…albeit a button with a really stupid ending.