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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some Post-Oscar Thoughts on "The King's Speech" versus "The Social Network"

By Steven Rosen

While The King's Speech" won an Oscar for David Seidler's original screenplay and "The Social Network" won for Aaron Sorkin's adapted screenplay, the differences in their approaches to writing may point out why "Speech" won a Best Picture Oscar at "Network's" expense.

Sorkin's screenplay is smart, insightful and funny in many ways -- in providing character insight, in showing how Harvard is the incubator of new trends (and leadership) that will soon change America, in providing his story with suspense by making it a courtroom drama. But one thing he doesn't do especially well is show in methodical detail how Facebook came into being technologically. Showing the process is beyond his ability to satisfactorily dramatize -- or, maybe, even fully understand. Plus, it could be deadly boring -- guys at computers for hours on end.

To a younger audience already familiar with Facebook, that doesn't matter -- they accept its invention/creation as a given, as part of their lives, and don't ask the film to "show me." Like the wheel. But maybe an older audience finds that missing.

By comparison, Seider's screenplay for "The King's Speech" is very much about the step-by-step process by which Lionel Logue teaches King George VI to control his stutter. It is about a problem resolved. We learn from it.

Movies don't often teach us in detail about how people work -- and how they solve important problems related to their work. They're more about fantasy, adventure, conflict (often with guns), melodrama...or, conversely, about probing a character's mind and feelings for psychological. "The King's Speech" framed its problem-solving in a setting filled with conflict-tinged melodrama, but it never ducked a detailed, well-dramatized explanation of how the King learned to control his stutter.

Maybe that's the edge that helped it win Best Picture from an Academy that has many older members.

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