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Sunday, November 14, 2010
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With all due respect to the actresses in the running for this year’s best supporting actress Oscar, the 2010 field is far from the deepest field in the history of the category. Nobody is — or, frankly, should be — a sure thing at this point, which inherently means that everybody still has a shot. For this reason, I’d like to discuss a name that’s been on my mind a lot lately: Rooney Mara, the 25-year-old actress who gives a brilliant performance as Erica Albright — a B.U. student whose decision to dump her Harvard boyfriend Mark Zuckerberg indirectly leads him to create Facebook — in the critical and commercial hit/best picture Oscar frontrunner “The Social Network.”

I am totally convinced that Mara would be generating serious awards buzz right about now if she, like all of the other people competing for a nomination, could have been in the United States at the time of her film’s release to promote it and, in so doing, herself. She could not be, though, because she was needed on the Sweden-set of the film that will probably make her a household name less than a year from now, the American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” (Incidentally, the director David Fincher cast her in that film’s title role — which was more highly-coveted than any other for young actresses in years — because she had so greatly impressed him during the making of “The Social Network.”)

Some will undoubtedly disparage the very notion that Mara is worthy of a nomination for her work in “The Social Network” because she appears in so few scenes and has such little screen time. I would remind them to consider two things: (1) the quality of her work in those scenes, and (2) the numerous precedents of brief appearances being recognized in this category. To that end…

The five-minute-long opening scene of “The Social Network,” in which Albright butts heads with and ultimately breaks up with Zuckerberg, is, for my money, the most electric and memorable of any this year. It’s deceptively simple-looking, with just two actors sitting across from each other trading lines of dialogue, but it actually couldn’t have been much more demanding.

The aforementioned dialogue totalled eight pages, which is a mountain of material for one extended back-and-forth, especially when screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote it with the expectation that it would be delivered at a rapid-fire speed. (One page of dialogue generally equates to one minute of screen time, so you can imagine how fast the actors had to speak to get out eight pages in five minutes!) Having a perfectionist for a director didn’t make things any easier — Mara and Eisenberg had to perform a jaw-dropping 99 takes of the scene before Fincher was satisfied that he had exactly what he needed, enough to drive lesser actors into fits of rage.

One could argue that Mara had even heavier lifting to do than Eisenberg in that scene, since his character’s job is essentially to be a prick (or “asshole,” as Albright calls him), while hers must transform from someone who cared enough about him at the start of the evening to meet him for a drink into someone who grows so flustered, insulted, and repulsed by him that she can no longer bear to even sit at the same table as him. All the while, she conveys a simple beauty, intelligence, and wit that leaves moviegoers flabbergasted that Zuckerberg would do anything to risk losing her.

Eventually, Zuckerberg realizes his mistake, but by that point it’s too late. He had already severed any hope of a reconciliation by cruelly publicizing the size of her breasts and disparaging her family name in a drunken blog post that she learns about in another brief but memorable scene, this time set in her dormroom, and this time featuring not even a word from the actress. As Albright is made aware of the post, and then teased by others who have already read it, the look of horror in Mara’s eyes perfectly captures the degree to which the Internet can hurt people, generally, and the humiliation that Zuckerberg has caused her, specifically.

In a later scene, Zuckerberg spots Albright at a restaurant where she is dining with her friends. He approaches her, apparently with the intention of seeking her forgiveness for his earlier transgressions, and asks if she will speak with him alone for a moment; she, however, will have none of it, calmly but firmly telling him that she doesn’t want to be rude to her friends by neglecting them. When he persists, she restates the ways in which he deeply hurt her, reminds him that she had been nice to him, and asks him not to “torture” her for it. As he leaves after having mentioned his new venture, she says, “Good luck with your video game.”

Although Mara does not have any subsequent scenes as Albright, her presence is felt throughout the rest of the movie. Indeed, one could conclude that it is the possibility of winning her back, rather than fame or fortune, that drives Zuckerberg to focus so intensely on the development of Facebook, considering that the early model for the site was created on the night she dumped him; he insists that the site be made available to the B.U. campus before most others; and, most tellingly, searches for and finds her on Facebook years later, “friends” her, and then obsessively refreshes the page to see if she has finally accepted him back. If Mara wasn’t as alluring as she is in the film, the audience wouldn’t buy Zuckerberg’s infatuation with her. As it happens, she is, and they do.

As for the gripe about Mara’s limited screen time (which I would estimate at about 10 to 12 minutes), I would simply remind them that there are numerous examples of performances with even less screen time that still earned nods from the Academy in the very category in which she is now eligible:

So, bottom line, does Mara truly have a real shot? In my opinion, yes — but only if she starts acting like she wants it. I get it that “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” takes precedence for her over campaigning, and that’s admirable, but she has days off, and if I were her I’d use at least some of them to do what all of the other awards hopefuls are doing, which is talking about themselves so that other people — moviegoers, journalists, and, yes, awards voters — will continue to talk about them, too. I have no doubt that Mara is going to be a big movie star very soon; it would be really special, though, if she was first acknowledged as a serious actress by the Academy.

Photos: Rooney Mara in “The Social Network.” Credit: Columbia.

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  • How about last year’s winner Mo’Nique?
    Wasn’t she complained for not campaigning hard enough for her self?
    But then she still managed to won and thanked the Academy that it’s all about the quality not the politic?
    But yeah she was clearly the frontrunner since the movie was shown in Sundance through the end of the year, the opposite of this year where the category is still a blank page.

  • Hungry Hippo

    I don’t think she needs to worry if she doesn’t get one for this. Dragon Tattoo should make her A LOT more famous than “that girl in the new A Nightmare on Elm Street”. I really liked her in TSN and her face when she finds out about the blog is a bit haunting. She should get more recognition…

  • Cooldued_1

    Sorry but she doesn’t deserve it, there a plenty of supporting actress who are more worthy, she only is in two scene and betray one emotion. She wasn’t that memorable

  • Robert Hamer

    “Nobody is — or, frankly, should be — a sure thing at this point…”

    I’m assuming you haven’t seen Animal Kingdom yet. I’m sorry to keep beating a dead horse like this, but frankly you leave me no choice since you seem intent on pretending Jacki Weaver doesn’t exist.