A movie about Facebook? You have to be joking.
That was the reaction to nearly everyone who heard that David Fincher’s next effort would be a dry drama about the founding of Facebook called The Social Network. What could possibly make us want to hear such a boring tale?
Well, as it turns out, The Social Network is the furthest thing from dull, and with its electric script, superb cinematography and powerful performances, has gone from seemingly bad idea to Oscar frontrunner in the span of a weekend.
The film’s narrative is brilliantly structured as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s two lawsuits, one between himself and former friend Eduardo Saverin and the other with founders of Harvard Connection, provide the backdrop to all the action of the film, and through recounted stories given as testimony, we see the genesis and rise of Facebook unfold.
“I majored in ‘not giving a shit.’ “
Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is somewhere between computer science nerd and idiot savant. His Zuckerberg is clearly a genius, able to hack servers and build website almost effortlessly, but in day to day life, it’s a struggle to carry one a simple conversation without upsetting someone, something featured prominently in the film’s opening scene where he levels his girlfriend with condescending insults and doesn’t understand why he gets broken up with. But at times his obtuseness shows through as cutting wittiness, and seen clearly in most of the legal scenes, where he tears into his adversaries whom it’s clear he has no respect for. While his character motivations might remain somewhat of a mystery, Eisenberg makes the character extremely well rounded, and it really is a role of a lifetime for the young actor.
Also proving themselves are Justin Timberlake, who no one can deny is excellent here as Napster founder Sean Parker, who has just the right mix of swagger and desperation. Andrew Garfield is a relative newcomer to most, but he’s practically the lead of the film here, and is without a doubt the most sympathetic character. When he shows up as Peter Parker in the new Spider-Man reboot, you can bet he’ll become a household name.
But the real stars of the show here are screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher, who have taken something no one possibly thought could make for an exciting film and turned it into something universally praised by critics and audiences alike. Sorkin injects a good amount of humor into a script that could have been bone dry, and Fincher has kept the film at a tight two hours, finally realizing that he can make good movies that don’t start to feel like they’re overstaying their welcome.
The Winklevii are the closest thing thing this movie has to comic relief, and I was never quite sure if we were supposed to be rooting for or against them.
It’s amazing that the film is this riveting considering it’s largely people sitting in a room doing little more than talking or typing, but Sorkin’s excellent script and Fincher’s directing style will have you constantly on the edge of your seat throughout. It’s a story we all know the end of, as Facebook becomes one of the most massive pop culture influences in history, but what we don’t know is how that exactly came to be.
The story here doesn’t pan out the way you’d expect. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is practically portrayed as the villain of the show, with slighted partner Eduardo Saverin the closest thing the film has to a protagonist. Many will take the film as straight up fact, but it does help to know that the book the movie is adapted from is based almost entirely on stories from Saverin himself, and Zuckerberg contributed nothing to it. But I don’t think this introduces a significant amount of bias into the film, as post-release, Zuckerberg has disputed very little about it other than “we didn’t party that much.” In the film Zuckerberg himself is rarely rowdy (that job is left to Timberlake’s Sean Parker), and his misdeeds are mostly social dickishness, possible intellectual property theft or cutthroat business dealings.
The two cases presented in the film are interesting to debate. It’s hard to argue that Zuckerberg didn’t shaft Saverin hard, but the Winklevoss twins’ claims are a bit harder to justify. They proposed to him a dating site that only allowed Harvard.edu email addresses, and Zuckerberg took that idea of exclusivity and replaced the Match.com application of it with what MySpace and Friendster were already doing at the time, building a social network. As he says in the film, “they had an idea, and I made a better one.” The internal debate over who is right in that scenario is one that rages throughout the entire film, and will have you discussing both sides for hours after.
Since this movie came out, I’ve had three people tell me I look like this guy.
But the other legal battle is far more personal and hard to understand. Why exactly does Zuckerberg essentially stab his best friend in the back? It’s something the film shows happening, but never really explains. In fact, Zuckerberg’s motivations throughout the film are pretty unclear, or perhaps conversely maybe even TOO straightforward. He initially launches the site to try and get noticed on campus, to catch the attention of the “cool” final clubs. Later, he doesn’t want to integrate Saverin’s idea of ads onto the site because it would lose its “cool” factor. And finally he’s seduced by the devil on his shoulder, Sean Parker, who he views as exactly the type of cool guy he’s been trying to be all along.
Saverin might have had differing ideas when it came to the business, but was in it from the ground floor and put up all the money to get the site on its feet. Sure, he may not have been the right man to manage the finances of a multibillion dollar company once it blew up, but there’s no reason demonstrated he should be completely left out in the cold to this harsh of a degree. What makes Zuckerberg go from kind of a dick to someone so overtly malicious to those close to him? The lack of an answer to that question is I think perhaps the biggest piece missing from the film.
It’s easy to see why this film will be a hit with audiences. Not only is it well cast, written and directed, but the subject matter is something that nearly all of us are intimately familiar with. At least in the most recent few generations, Facebook is so integrated into our lives at this point, they might as well be making a film about air or water. And the fact that there’s a rather fascinating story behind the that none of us really knew, keeps us engaged throughout, wanting to know more.
The only loser through all of this is Zuckerberg himself. “Why does he care, he’s a billionaire?” you may ask. Well, when you’re a billionaire you have every material thing you want, but as demonstrated by the movie’s tragic last scene, you can’t buy people to like you, and The Social Network tells the tale of a lonely kid who created a website that now connects friends all across the world. If it’s a true portrait, it’s a sad irony for him, but for the rest of us, it makes for one hell of a movie.
4.5 out of 5 stars
“It’s not me, it’s you. You’re such an asshole someone should make a movie about it someday.”