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The Social Network (2010) ****

September 29, 2010

written by: Aaron Sorkin
produced by: Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca & Cean Chaffin
directed by: David Fincher
rated PG-13 (for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language)
121 min.
U.S. release date: October 1, 2010
 
 
A couple of years ago, I had read that writer Aaron Sorkin was starting to write a screenplay for a movie about Facebook. I may even have read about it on Facebook. Go figure. My first reaction was that of curiosity coupled with a what-and-see approach, but then I read that director David Fincher would be helming it. I dig Sorkin’s prose but I am continuously marveled by Fincher’s skills. For him to sign on to something like this made me believe that this is more than just “Facebook: The Movie” and possibly a must-see movie. Having seen “The Social Network”, I can now attest that it is indeed another masterpiece that can be added to Fincher’s filmography and is easily one of the best, if not the best film of the year thus far.
 
Already being hailed as a movie that defines a generation, this is a film that warrants such a statement as it really gets its subject matter. Like “Easy Rider” and “Wall Street”, it taps into a specific cultural zeitgeist and in turn becomes an undeniable classic. Similar to those films, the jargon and tone is absolutely dead-on, encapsulating the online narcissism so prevalent today. It is all that and so much more. It works strongest though as a fascinating character study of an introvert who created a tool that virtually connects the world.  
 
The uncanny combination of Sorkin the wordsmith and Fincher the visual artist, gives us a film as addictive as Facebook itself.  In fact, the star of the film is Sorkin’s hilarious, lightning-fast script which Fincher and his ensemble cast clearly delight in. The Oscar-worthy script really is the biggest surprise of the year for me, since it could have easily been all rhetoric. And while it does cover the birth of Facebook, it’s not just two hours worth of an origin story. Instead, you will find it touches on timeless themes like friendship, betrayal,  loyalty and deceit.
 
 
 
 
We meet Harvard student Matt Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as he sits across from his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) at a campus bar, surrounded by random college students. In their sharp interaction, it becomes obvious he is socially inept, unknowingly insulting, and arrogant. He avoids eye-contact, rambles on about himself and hardly acknowledges a thing she says. Despite his obvious intellect, he is absolutely stunned when Erica dumps him for being a self-focused prick. She’s through with his condescending attitude and single-minded pursuit of “final club” (a male grooming ground for the wealthy and elite) fame. We get the idea that he is stunned not necessarily because he cares for her, but because of how it will look.
 
This fantastic sequence is how the film begins. Before any opening credits, Fincher spotlights Sorkin’s powerful script and prepares us for the kind of film we will be watching. We had an idea going in that this would be a movie about Facebook, but right away we are shown it is about people. Most likely people you know. It is one of the best, most immersive openings of the year and quite possibly one of the best break-up scenes ever. The scene should be something of a reality check for the guy who has never failed at anything but instead it plants the seed for something much bigger than he could ever imagine.
 

What does a computer brainiac do to mend a deflated ego and a broken heart? He returns to his dorm room he shares with Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello) and Chris Hughes (Patrick Mapel), downs a few brews and bitterly blogs away his sorrows. Zuckerberg’s catharsis takes form as his roommates watch him call Erica flat-chested and other awful slander. But he’s just getting started, he also hacks into hundreds of undergrad girl photo files and sets up a hotness scale, calling it Facemash, where anyone can vote who’s better-looking. From social rejection, the early stages of a social network has begun.

At this point, we start to see the real-life events that formed Facebook in 2004, which has now become the place to “poke” and “friend” people. It matters not whether this is a true account, since Fincher and Sorkin provide such stylish and riveting drama from such an unlikely source.  Fact or fiction here, it is ultimately a very compelling and absorbing film.

It’s both Shakespearian and Machiavellian for a plugged-in generation. As all the players are introduced, Fincher craftily frames these growing pains with the 2008 legal depositions that try to snag Zuckerberg’s rise to boy billionaire status. It’s a preferable approach to the typical origin story as we’re given both hindsight and perspective to the characterization and events that play out.

 

As the story zips along, with by a buzzing score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, we are given the characters who become collateral damage in Facebook’s formation. Zuckerberg’s only friend, Brazilian student Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), was involved at ground zero, providing business and financial models, is eventually defriended and in turn files suit. Then there’s the comical twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, (both played by Armie Hammer), the self-entitled blond beefcakes on the Harvard rowing crew. They claim they originated the idea of Facebook, along with Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) when they asked Zuckerberg to help them build a campus-based online dating service. Zuckerberg blew them off, resulting in some serious ego-bruising when they find out (albeit a little late) just how fast “Facebooking” has taken off.

As the site goes nationwide,  its broadening exposure is noticed by Napster co-founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), an entrepreneur who offers to take Zuckerberg under his wing. Parker is just as creative but has the experience (both success and failures), charisma and outgoing personality that Zuckerberg lacks to make things happen. As Parker becomes more involved in what is called “TheFacebook”, persuading Zuckerberg to move to the Silicon Valley, the friendship with Saverin is all but severed.

Amid the lawsuits, the wild partying and internet dominance, there is enough of complex and sympathetic character examination to go around for all of the main roles. You’ll be hard-pressed to root for any one character here (maybe Saverin if anyone) and likely so since a flawed character that shows strengths and weaknesses, that is both intolerable and incorrigible, is more interesting than a protagonist with no chinks in their armor.

 

This film could have easily been a slogging talking heads bore but Fincher slyly integrates what we’ve seen in his last couple of films into this story.  He takes the procedural formula and ensemble balance act from “Zodiac” and effectively manages these characters. There is also a breathtaking visual scene in the film involving an Oxford rowing competition that reminded me of the tumultuous submarine scene from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Both have an intense, hard-driving pace that matches the frenzied emotions on-screen. Fincher also brings the funny to the forefront as well, as he displays Sorkin’s humorous interplay in and out of the depositions as Zuckerberg battles for control of his billion-dollar business.  It’s probably the first time since “The Fight Club” that he see blatant comedy.

It would be impossible to comment on this film without acknowledging the talent of this young ensemble cast. Many say that Eisenberg plays the same character over and over in each film, but he is far from the likeable guys found in “Zombieland” and “Solitary Man”.  He exudes an awkwardness and snarky arrogance that ostracizes anyone who tries to get close to him. At the same time, as the anti-hero, we do kind of feel for him but it doesn’t last. Timberlake has his best acting gig yet in the most charismatic role. He’s so smooth as he sucks Zuckerberg up into the vortex of big business. Garland shows the most emotional range as the discarded co-founder. He will soon go from Facebook to comic book as the new Peter Parker, and although I still don’t see him swinging from webs, I eagerly await what he will do with the role. It may be a male-heavy cast, but there are three actresses that capably hold their own. Mara, the future Lisbeth Salander, is great as the fed-up Erica, Brenda Song is a gem of a nutcase as Saverin’s latch-on girlfriend and Rashida Jones, almost provides a sympathetic ear on Zuckerberg’s legal team.

The culmination of back-stabbing, self-gain, celebrity, and the fate of millions of dollars (and users) at stake, results in a sensational cinematic experience. It amazes me how Fincher and Sorkin can take Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires and turn it into such a brilliant and satisfying film. At no point did I sense any missteps in tone or needless exposition, instead the movie weaves and flows as if we’re seeing an infinite playlist come to life on-screen. It is indeed as addictive as Facebook itself and will have you suggesting it to friends as fast as you can update your status.

Regardless of how you feel about Facebook, it would be difficult to sit through this film and not find it infectious.  I think the overall theme is quite poignant and does indeed say a lot about our current social connections. The college nerd-turned billionaire who couldn’t seem to grasp the definition of “friend” has in turn changed the world’s definition of the word. In an attempt to escape his own alienation and loneliness, he creating an online world that wound up reconnecting others while spreading such isolation to 500 million “friends”.

 

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2010 9:57 pm

    I’m really looking forward to see this movie… I’m not quite into Facebook -like a lot of people- but I’ve read some reviews that catched my eye on this movie. Also David Fincher is one of my favorite directors!

  2. Lauri permalink
    October 2, 2010 7:48 pm

    I saw the movie today. I agree with everything you wrote in your review. I was blown away by how smart the movie is. I was concerned that the story was going to be “dumbed down,” but I should have know better with Sorkin writing the script.

    “…gives us a film as addictive as Facebook itself” is the perfect way to describe the movie. I was totally enthralled by these kids (and they are just kids), and how quick and interesting they are.

    I enjoyed the back-and-forth, the way the movie bounced between the beginning of it all and the more current happenings with the lawsuits, etc.

    I’ve always been a Justin Timberlake fan, especially his gigs on Saturday Night Live. The guy is developing some nice acting chops.

    I expect big things for this movie, come Oscar time. Eisenberg, Timberlake, Sorkin, and Fincher are all deserving of recognition.

  3. October 7, 2010 4:11 pm

    I just thought it regarded pretty boring. It’s a movie about creating facebook. Seems like I will have to check it out. All of the evaluations are good from right here and outdoors sources.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      October 8, 2010 12:44 pm

      I think this review acknowledges that mindset and puts to rest that it’s more than just “a movie about creating facebook”.

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