It’s hard to write about hating Aaron Sorkin, because, for the people who haven’t started to notice all his writing tics, or who have but don’t mind them, his movies and shows are still peppy and entertaining. I used to enjoy them too; I genuinely don’t relish the idea of ruining them for anyone. Sorkin’s a savant in certain ways, a master of “competence porn,” who does his best work writing about smart, hyper-articulate people who are very good at their jobs.
This is a perfectly understandable brand of escapism. We love to imagine that the people who run our institutions are smart and capable and principled, and Aaron Sorkin is great at selling that myth. At an even more basic level, we love watching our favorite actors deliver the kind of stirring speeches we wish real people would. His work is a layer cake of wish fulfillment, satisfying both philosophically and verbally, a kind of extended staircase wit delivered by our favorite talkers. He tends to do his best work writing for characters who naturally grandstand, like lawyers (A Few Good Men) and politicians (The West Wing or Charlie Wilson’s War).
He writes movies where people make words good, quickly, which makes them easy to watch, and allows him to speed through exposition at 1.75 speed — kind of like a truthy slam poem. The stories are slick, the action moves briskly, and the rapid-fire dialogue has the kind of repetitious, call-and-response cadence you find in a sermon, or an old rock song (just replace “UH HUH” and “AMEN” with “How’s it goin’ so far” and “YA THINK?!“).
The classic Sorkin scene is of a character parrying an antagonist with defensive, one or two word answers, getting increasingly agitated along the way, eventually building to a crescendo in which the dam holding back their true feelings finally bursts — as in “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” or “if you were the inventors of Facebook, you would’ve invented Facebook.” The Big Revelation usually silences the crowd, as if the guy just drained a three-pointer at a road game.
The smarmily delivered tautology (if Facebook… then Facebook) by the way, is another Sorkin favorite. (See also: “You know how I know they didn’t write it? Because if they’d written it they’d have written it,” among other examples).
Sorkin stories move and bounce, he makes dialogue into a sport — it’s exciting. The flip side of this is that stories where the protagonist always has something profound and/or snarky to say, an immediate comeback for anyone who would question them, is that they often seem profoundly smug. Watched back to back, Sorkin’s movies and shows feel a little like a montage of his compiled comebacks, Things I Wish I’d Said, Vol. VII. Aaron Sorkin’s narratives don’t have questions, they have answers. Where Michael Bay’s movies tend to divide the entirety of humanity into sluts and clowns, Sorkin’s seem to divide them into heroes and straw men, geniuses and rubes.