Tag Archive for biopic

Movie Review: The Social Network (10/2/10)

Movie Poster: The Social Network

The Social Network

Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg
Rooney Mara as Erica Albright
Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker
Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Movie Still: The Social Network

Jesse Eisenberg stars in The Social Network
[Photo By: Merrick Morton]

Who would’ve thought a biopic about the creator of Facebook could be so much fun to watch? Fincher’s newest film features adept writing, nuanced performances, and breakneck pacing.

 

Anyone who’s ever read the fine print on Facebook’s privacy settings will recognize the site’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg, in this weekend’s opener The Social Network. The sneaky way he deftly dodges answering incriminating questions will be familiar to anyone who has felt violated by a sudden and unexpected change in privacy settings or sensed something sinister in the fallacious use of the phrase “Facebook lets you control.” The American public loves to watch its idols tumble from their pedestals, and biopics have long focused on fame, fortune, glory, and crime. The Social Network is about all those things, but Zuckerberg is more infamous than famous — definitely heavy on the fortune and light on the glory. While at Harvard, he and a select few friends and hangers-on created Facebook, which is arguably the most popular website on the internet today. The Social Network posits that Facebook wasn’t founded by a greedy little smart kid; it was created by a nerd with a ten-ton chip on his shoulder. What makes any of this interesting and why should you see it? The Social Network isn’t just a bunch of nerds overdosing on caffeine, writing code in dark Harvard dorm rooms. It’s a whole new kind of American success story.

The Social Network opens on Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting across from his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) at The Thirsty Scholar in Boston, exchanging fast-paced dialogue that explains his character in the first five minutes. He brings up his 1600 SAT score, his obsession with Harvard’s final clubs, betrays his jealousy of the “world-class athletes” who row crew, and condescendingly tells Erica that she doesn’t have to study because she goes to BU. As Erica leaves, she predicts his success as “some kind of computer person,” then delivers the line that sets up the entire movie: “You’ll think everyone hates you because you’re a nerd, but it’ll be because you’re an asshole.” The Social Network would have us believe Zuckerberg created Facebook out of resentment toward women, toward athletes, toward elitist Harvard bluebloods. Fortunately, writer Aaron Sorkin balances on a delicate tightrope—one misstep and The Social Network’s version of Zuckerberg could’ve been a misunderstood, sympathetic genius, or a complete jackass. As written by Sorkin and played by Eisenberg, Zuckerberg is an ineffectual smart kid you’d love to hate if only you didn’t pity him just the tiniest bit.

The Social Network is framed around a series of legal hearings in which Zuckerberg defends his actions against friends and colleagues. Between terse, irate exchanges in boardrooms where a court stenographer types incessantly, flashbacks take us deep within the exclusive, ivy-swathed walls of early 2000s Harvard University, where Zuckerberg and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) gave birth to Facebook. After his breakup with Erica, Zuckerberg takes to LiveJournal to insult her, then creates a website where Harvard men can rate the attractiveness of Harvard women. Yes, that’s the kind of man who created Facebook. After his site draws 22,000 views in two hours, he has the attention of Harvard’s administration and all of campus. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (twins played by Ken doll lookalike Armie Hammer), who row crew and belong to the most elite Harvard clubs, and their business partner Divya Nurendra (Max Minghella), approach Zuckerberg to create a Harvard matchmaking site. Zuckerberg gives them (and Harvard) the metaphorical finger while he strings them along, all the while creating Facebook with Saverin.

Those of us who grew up right alongside the internet will recognize the LiveJournal login screen, get nostalgic at the mention of dinosaurs Friendster and MySpace, and be infinitely aware of the Napster illegal downloading lawsuits. So it’s unsurprising when Napster creator and world-class wild card Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) seeks out Zuckerberg, seizing the opportunity to jump aboard a lifeboat as Napster sank beneath him. Those of us who paid attention will also remember when Facebook was thefacebook.com (apparently Parker advised Zuckerberg to take off the “the”), and when it was unavailable to anyone outside the Ivies. Zuckerberg, whose resentment toward the clubs into which he’d never gain admission ran deeper than anyone could’ve known, wanted to create his own exclusive club, one he could preside over like a king. He succeeded, but at what price?

Jesse Eisenberg, whose filmography is nothing short of impressive, plays Zuckerberg as an egocentric, resentful genius who’s repulsive but somehow sympathetic. Little-known Brit actor Andrew Garfield, in a nuanced and smart performance, falls into step as the infinitely kind Saverin. Justin Timberlake, whose acting career outside of SNL has been hit-or-miss, plays Sean Parker as a paranoid smooth operator who only wants to have fun at everyone else’s expense. By all indications, The Social Network should have been a boring, made-for-TV biopic, but in the hands of Fincher and editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, the film moves at a breakneck pace. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth utilizes dynamic camerawork and tilt-shift photography to make the movie visually captivating. Trent Reznor’s throbbing score imbues the film with energy, though the music is sometimes distracting. Writer Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) may see an Oscar nod this year for his adroitly paced, witty dialogue. Hearing these characters speak is sometimes like listening to another language entirely, but you can’t stop paying attention. A biographical feature about computer nerds has no right to be so exciting, but in the adept hands of Fincher, Sorkin, Eisenberg, and Garfield, it’s one of the year’s smartest films.

Movie Review: The Runaways (4/10/10)

Movie Poster: The Runaways
The Runaways

Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Screenplay by Floria Sigismondi
Based on the book Neon Angel: The Cherrie Currie Story by Cherrie Currie

Joan Jett – Kristen Stewart
Cherie Currie – Dakota Fanning
Robin – Alia Shawkat
Lita Ford – Scout Taylor-Compton
Kim Fowley – Michael Shannon

CLR Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Movie Still: The Runaways

Kristen Stewart is Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning plays Cherie Currie in The Runaways.

Brilliant Performances
Bolster a Biopic About Women’s Libido

This week’s The Runaways, a biopic based on lead singer Cherie Currie’s autobiography, follows the formation and dissolution of the ‘70s all-girl rock band The Runaways, but more importantly it’s an apt metaphor for the shock of a sudden thrust into adulthood. It follows lead singer Currie through rock stardom into a horrifying downward spiral. When they formed, The Runaways strummed a chord that hadn’t been struck yet; they were a symbol of feminine sexual power and prowess, a representation of women’s freedom to run with the boys, to be just as hardcore and just as naughty as their male counterparts.

“It’s not about women’s lib, kitties, it’s about women’s libido!” manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) screams to his young charges. The same could be said about the movie itself. It commences with blood when Currie (Dakota Fanning) gets her first period, and snowballs from there, touching on every aspect of sexual awakening—female sexual awakening, to be precise. Self-gratification and experimentation with both women and men occurs in the film, building an undercurrent of sexual energy that seems to buffet the band as they rise to international stardom. Coming-of-age stories for girls rarely touch so explicitly on feminine libido, and it’s a welcome change. Though the tabloids sensationalized a lesbian kiss between Fanning and Stewart, the sex scenes between the actresses are not exploitative. In fact, their personal relationship is just a thing that happened, which is an interesting and neat way to deal with the trials of growing up. Fowley denigrates the girls, “You’ve got to start thinking like men!” but they’re barely women yet.

The Runaways were essentially engineered by record producer Fowley, a psychotically manic weirdo who seems poised on that fine line between insanity and genius. Shannon’s performance is pitch-perfect, following in the steps of his Oscar-nominated role in Revolutionary Road and the underrated Bug. Shannon plays crazy with the best of them, and this role is cringe-worthy; he’s part letch, part greedy producer, part manipulative creep. Kristen Stewart, famous for her role as Bella Swan in the Twilight movies, plays Currie’s better-known counterpart Joan Jett. Her every sneer, every slouch, oozes pent-up energy and impotent rage. Onstage she’s a force to be reckoned with, sizzling with vitality and dripping sweat. Stewart showed potential in last year’s Adventureland, but her performance in The Runaways should ensure her career after the Twilight craze fades. Fanning, a child actress coming into her own, puts her heart into Currie but though her performance is gutsy it seems strained. She’s a sex kitten in lingerie, but her artless posing and dead eyes betray her—though to be fair, this also seems a fair description of the real Currie. There’s an uncomfortable exploitative focus on sexualizing Cherie, which is probably pointed—Currie was indeed fifteen years old when The Runaways went on tour. Scout Taylor-Compton as Lita Ford and Stella Maeve as Sandy West, both with great performances, round out the heart of the band. The underutilized Alia Shawkat (Whip It!, “Arrested Development”) was cast as a fictional catch-all for the band’s revolving bassists.

Since the movie is based on Currie’s autobiography, she’s the main protagonist of the film. Her alcoholic father, uncaring actress mother, and jealous sister form a thin support net for her, and the band is a fantastic escape from a dreary life in which her greatest dream was to be David Bowie.

Although Joan Jett’s story is awfully familiar, Stewart as Jett should’ve been given more screen time. The real Jett executive produced the film and worked closely with filmmakers and with Stewart to ensure the story was told correctly. One assumes they got most of it right; Ms. Jett wouldn’t have it any other way.

Director Floria Sigismondi is best known for her work in music videos: she’s directed for the likes of Marilyn Manson and David Bowie. Like its (underrated) glam-rock counterpart Velvet Goldmine, The Runaways feels at times like an extended music video. Sigismondi is obviously in her element during the band’s performance sequences, which take place everywhere from roller rinks to house parties to clubs to the studio. Sigismondi knows cinematography, and DP Benoît Debie uses grainy close-ups to bring the focus entirely to the subjects. The camera is rarely static, frenetically following the actors through performances and backstage dramas. The film’s costumes, hairstyles, and makeup are impeccable: the cast are quite literally transformed into their characters circa the 1970s. Stewart looks infinitely at home with Jett’s signature onyx mullet; Fanning in Currie’s feathered platinum locks; the ripped t-shirts, platform boots, and high-waisted jeans of the era integrate perfectly into the story.

Though the narrative has been done before—an innocent thrust suddenly into stardom, only to come crashing back down again—it’s always an interesting tale. The movie has flaws: pacing is off at times and the band’s eventual dissolution is anticlimactic. Fantastic performances from Stewart and Shannon bolster what could have been an entirely mediocre biopic. Even with a “wide” release, the film isn’t going to break box offices, but if you like glam rock, coming of age stories, or biopics about bands, The Runaways will be just the right medicine. It’s certainly a perfect antidote for the deluge of marriage-and-men-centered rom-coms flying through theaters on a weekly basis.