Friday, October 1, 2010

The Social Network (***1/2)

Directed by David Fincher


It happened in a moment. But when it did, it was irreversible. Eight years ago, nobody knew what Facebook was. Today, for all young people, a world without Facebook seems like a world without television or Oxygen (for some). When a cultural phenomena sparks and flies as quickly as Facebook has this past decade, it seems almost inevitable that there would be a film made about it. Leave it to David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin to take this concept and develop it into a film that is fully engrossing and entertaining, even if it does lack a plentiful amount of information and facts.

The popular site was started by Mark Zuckerberg who, in this film, is a very sarcastic, defiant persona embodied by Jesse Eisenberg. We learn very early that he is involved in two very serious, very expensive lawsuits - one against his best friend. But the creation of Facebook begins well before all that, when he is a student at Harvard. He has just been dumped mercilessly by his girlfriend Emily (Rooney Mara). Afterward, he is inspired to go on a late night bender, developing a website that takes a photo of every girl in the school and asks you to compare "who is hotter?". He hacks into the school's database to get the pictures of every girl on campus and gets the site into the Harvard internet server, all while blogging about it relentlessly and being drunk on beer. By four o'clock in the morning, the site has gotten so many hits in that one night that it overloads the entire internet server and it crashes down.

Embarrassed and shocked that Mark defeated their internet security system so easily, the Harvard AD board put Mark on academic probation for six months. By that time, though, his name has become synonymous with infamy across campus and he catches the eye of the wealthy, pro-rowing brothers Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and Tyler Winklevoss (Josh Pence). They approach him with the idea for a Harvard social networking site. When Mark asks why it is different from other sites like MySpace or Friendster, they reply with the magic word: exclusivity. Mark agrees to join the project, and asks his best friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) to put up the money for the development process and be the business manager. Of course, Mark doesn't mention the Winklevosses to Eduardo and as Mark's rapid development of "The Facebook" gets more and more sophisticated (relationship statuses, photo collections, The Wall), he decides to launch the site on his own.

Very quickly, the site grows throughout Harvard and the Winklevosses are understandably indignant that Mark would take their idea and go forward with it on his own. Mark says that they only offered him the concept, but he is the one who really invented Facebook. When Eduardo learns of the Winklevosses, he's distressed to find that their idea may not have been completely original. Facebook begins to expand to universities across the country, including Stanford, where it's discovered by Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). When Sean meets with them, he woos them with ideas of complete expansion and becoming billionaires. But as Sean's influence becomes bigger and bigger, Eduardo's becomes smaller and smaller until it is nearly nonexistent. Just as the the site's popularity is reaching its apex, Mark is being sued by both Eduardo and the Winklevosses for tens of millions of dollars.

The film is an adaptation of the book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich, which is well-known to be rooted almost entirely in fiction. Zuckerberg himself has spoken out against the film, and who could blame him; it certainly paints him as narcissistic and sleazy. In many ways, this is a film truly about Mark trying to become less of an asshole, except that he never succeeds (in other words: if I were Zuckerberg, I'm not sure I'd be the biggest fan either). The book was adapted by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame, and he turns this tale into a rapidly-paced travel through the renaissance of social media that was Facebook. Sorkin does an impeccable job of keeping the pace moving and the dialogue sharp, so that we're never overwhelmed by the avalanche of technological and legal jargon that the film shoves down our throat throughout.

Surely, there are many moments when the film wants to have it both ways: to be a formal piece of historical fiction and a witty retelling with clever showcases of pithy dialogue. Throughout the entire movie, I was struck by this one realization: I'm not sure the world within this film really exists. Sure, it would be amazing if it did, I'd like to see twin brothers like the Winklevosses speak in rhythmic patterns of repartee. Everyone in this universe seems like a professional humorist - even the Dean of Harvard is a master of quick-witted banter. That said, this is probably the greatest film that Sorkin has ever written (also penned Charlie Wilson's War, An American President, and A Few Good Men), since he has finally allowed his Mamet-like skills with dialogue and pace to be part of a film that can actually employ it effectively. He's no longer forced to bog down his style with political intrigue, but instead is set free in a way that has never been seen and what follows is a stupendous display of dialogue.

And those words are put into some very capable, young actors that deliver this script in a very proficient and effective way. Jesse Eisenberg, in playing Zuckerberg, shows once again his uncanny ability to pick roles that he'll be good at. After Zombieland and how big this film is sure to be, he should finally be the nebbish, alternative movie star we've been waiting for since Woody Allen decided to stop acting. Rashida Jones, Brenda Song, as well as Garfield, Hammer, Pence, and Mara, all give exceptional supporting performances. But the key performance to this excellent film is Justin Timberlake (a sentence I never thought I'd write on this blog). Out of everyone, Timberlake is the only actor who perfectly understands Sorkin's cross between snarky shrewdness and human drama, and his scenes are the most vibrant and exciting. Yeah, I'm talking about that Justin Timberlake.

On the David Fincher scale, The Social Network is a whole lot closer to the brilliant Se7en and Zodiac then it is to the overblown, overwrought, overrated Fight Club and Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There are very few filmmakers that make me fluster violently from one direction to the other. For one, there is no one better at showing his own polish. The Social Network may be the most stylish film that we see all year, with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth making the bronze-like tone throughout the film seem particularly slick. All things considered, he's become very important in the filmmaking community and all of his movies have become like sponsored events. This film especially, since it has the gall to tackle the most popular website in the short, but illustrious history of the internet. I think Fincher puts a lot of stock in being perceived as an "important filmmaker", and while it can sometimes lead to the grandiose ejaculation of ego that was Benjamin Button, it can sometimes produce films as likable as this one.

I don't think this film will let down the young crowd of Facebookers, since it moves briskly and is filled with humor that is both smart and broad. I do wonder why this film chose to go in a direction which everyone involved has said is completely untrue. This would be more forgivable if the film really took any kind of stance on Facebook itself and commented on its monolithic effect on today's culture and society, but there is very little in the way of parable or argument. But whether or not this movie is a true collection of events leading to the creation of Facebook seems to be besides the point, since if social media has proven anything, it's this: the most interesting version of the story will end up becoming the truest version of the story.

No comments: