Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's a Love/Hate thing...

So in preparation for the Oscars I’m trying to cram in all the movies that I’ve wanted to see all year but are now just finally getting to. I finally saw Black Swan but because of all the “mystery” surrounding what it was really about … I ended up totally over thinking it. I will say though that Natalie Portman did an amazing job.

Then I watched Social Network. For those of you who don’t know I’m a former West Wing fanatic. I can wax poetic for hours on the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin. I was so excited to “hear” him again in the writing and in truth he didn’t disappoint. SN sounds like the Aaron I know. Nobody does “brilliant” like he does.

But here was my problem with the movie. I didn’t like the protagonist. And sadly that’s a pretty big downside. I get that in this version of the telling of the story we’re probably not supposed to like Zuckerberg, but it still stopped me from falling in love with the movie.

I can think of so many times where an editor has commented… I just didn’t feel for the heroine or hero. I didn’t like them. This used to frustrate me… but I do get it.

Now it might make people (writers) think that all heroes or heroines have to ultimately be “nice” or else the audience won’t like them. But we know that’s not true. I just read a book where the heroine is very nice. Super nice. Pleasing in all ways. Any person would want to know this very nice person. I couldn’t stand her as a character. Nice isn’t what it’s about.

With Zuckerberg (movie version) I didn't have a problem with him not being nice. But I was looking for something more than a spoiled genius, left out of the cool kid club, who was condescending and rude to everyone around him. One moment of real friendship or a truly sincere gesture from him to anyone and that might have helped.

Ultimately I couldn’t root for him. In truth I didn’t really root for anyone in this movie… except maybe the roommate a little and the ex-girlfriend. Who delivered the best line of the movie in my opinion.

We, the audience, need to “like” the protagonist. We need to empathize, sympathize, appreciate… whatever. We need to get them. Whether they be nice or (as Eileen would say) they be asshats we need to see the story from their prospective so that we’re connected.

At least I do. HBO shows excel at this. Omar – the Robin Hood of Drug dealers from the Wire. Niki – the bitchy spoiled 2nd wife from Big Love who can also fix a washing machine and hang shingles on a roof. The FBI guy from Boardwalk Empire… (forgot his name.) Who is crazy and insane but so damn passionate about his work. The Widow Schroeder who knows her boyfriend had her husband killed and seems okay with that even though we also see her as a loving and kind mother.

Anybody else you wanted to love but ended up hating? Wanted to hate but ended up loving?


Molly O'Keefe said...

I understand the way the movie is sort of like Shakespeare, the writing is pretty incredible and the themes are huge. I loved the lead - but it was fairly flat to me too, and I think you're right it's because of the character. I don't care about him.

I love your question - characters I love and shouldn't - Don Draper. The meth-cooking science teacher in Breaking Bad. Omar is a great one. Nurse Jackie.

Characters I should love and don't...let me think.

Maureen McGowan said...

The Zuckerburg character was pretty unappealing and now you've made me want to see the movie again to see if I can spot any of the things that the screen writing gurus say you should do to make an audience care about an unlikable protagonist. (I did with this Mad Men a while back.)

I saw that movie so long ago and before all the hype (other than the trailers and ads, which got me excited about it). I just remember being fascinated, more than pulled along by a story. I didn't know much about him, or the battle for control of FB...

I LOVE the Nicki character on Big Love. After so many seasons, and after she and that family have gone through so much, they've managed to change her in subtle ways, yet still keep the core of who she is intact. And the more we learn about her childhood, the more we sympathize with the prickly.

Like Molly... I'm going to have to think on your other question. It's a good one. And I'm often annoyed by overly "nice" characters, but can't think of a good example right now. (Except in one of the RITA books I just finished and I can't talk about that.)

Eileen said...

Ha! This came up recently. My niece told me she thinks I have awfully high moral standards for the fictional people I want to spend time with. Here are some that I loved and then, well, didn't.

I stopped watching Weeds when Mary Louise Parker let her boyfriend hit her son and did nothing about it. Also when she finally got some money she went out and spent it all on herself, not on her kids. She was dead to me.

Pretty much all of the Desperate Housewives, but especially the redheaded one. She kicked her kid out of the house and didn't think about him again until she saw him on TV. Hello? It's your kid! Dead to me.

Tommy in Rescue Me. He went from desperately trying to cope with loss to just being a substance-abusing asshat. Totally dead to me (and he talked to the dead at the beginning so he should know better!).

And I never liked anyone in the musical Chicago. I can't understand why anyone liked that movie. By halfway through I was hoping everyone one of them would be executed by the end of the show.

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, your Chicago statement made me snort by coffee. But I did enjoy that movie.

I'm not so hard on fictional characters, more fascinated by the choices they make. To me that story is about the extremes someone will go to to be famous. And the choices they make are really horrible ones.

But I have been thinking about doing a post not unlike the one Steph did today about trying to have a dark protag and blowing it.

With the success of Mad Men and Breaking Bad (well, critical success) and Dexter, a lot of other shows are trying the dark protag thing out.

But when theses shows don't work for me, they REALLY don't.

One is maybe only on in Canada. Not sure. Call Me Fitz. I actually plan to watch the first episode again to see if they give you a single reason not to HATE this man.

The other (and I only watched this for educational purposes ;) is that new sitcom Perfect Couples. Not one of the characters is even vaguely likeable or relatable. Six people. All horrible. You hope they're all divorced or kill each other by the second episode. I didn't watch to find out.

In contrast... Shameless. Yes, they give you lots of reasons to like the main character. She's far from perfect but the good traits they show you far outweigh the bad.

But they've also been good at showing the positive/relatable traits in the secondary characters, like her Dad and her boyfriend and the Joan Cusack character. Great stuff.

Sinead M said...

I usually like conflicted, dark characters, because they're interesting.

the problem with nice characters is that they do often fall flat, and their choices are predictable. I caught the very first episode of the show Off The Map, and the main character, the girl who has run to the jungle to escape her old life, but wants to heal the sick and the old and is a giant cliche and boring to boot.

I can't say I hate her, but I have no interest in watching any more of her.

Maureen McGowan said...

I really want to like Off the Map because I like Grey's Anatomy so much, and mostly because of the darkly interesting characters.

But the more episodes that pass of Off the Map, the more it seems cliche. All of the Dr.s are running away from some huge mistake, and even when we learn the truth of what's going on with that main cute clinic owner guy... it's just not that dark, or interesting. And I think it's supposed to be.

Grey's is one show where I love watching characters make bad decisions. Because the decisions are right for them, even if they wouldn't be for me.

Simone St. James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simone St. James said...

What did I do?? Computer gone wild.

"to see if I can spot any of the things that the screen writing gurus say you should do to make an audience care about an unlikable protagonist."

The very first scene was supposed to do that, where he gets dumped, publicly, by his smart, beautiful girlfriend. It was supposed to signal that people are on to this guy, that he drives some people up the wall.

It didn't work for everyone I guess, but it worked for me. Loved that movie...

Cecilia Grant said...

Oh, I loved The Social Network. The whole way through I was thinking, "I don't care one bit about this guy. He's not saving any cats. So why on earth am I riveted to his story?" Seriously, much as I love Colin Firth I would give the Oscar to Eisenberg because I think that's a much more difficult thing for an actor to pull off.

Of course it helps to have Sorkin's dialogue. The movie really hit the ground running with that break-up scene, and never let up. I guess I'll follow smart dialogue just about anywhere.

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