What's Not to "Like"?
When director David Fincher announced that his next project would be a movie about the founding of Facebook, lots of people (including me) simultaneously rolled their eyes and dropped their jaws. Fincher has one of the most varied filmographies of anyone working today; his career began with Alien 3, exploded with Se7en, peaked with Fight Club, and took a weird Oscar-epic turn with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But, really, a Facebook movie?
I know there are some of you who will avoid this film because you don’t want to see a bunch of pathetic nerds typing status updates for two hours. Let’s get one thing straight: The Social Network isn’t about Facebook users; it’s a movie about how a broken heart and a genius mind changed the way millions of people live their lives. It’s full of complex characters, sixty-miles-an-hour dialogue, and a surprising amount of laughs.
The story is very simple. In 2003, Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) girlfriend dumps him; not because he’s a gawky tech wizard with limited social skills, she says, but because he’s an asshole. Both are true, and in jilted freak fashion, Mark stomps back to his dorm room and builds a Web site that allows users to vote on the hotness of campus co-eds—all the while blogging about how awful his ex-girlfriend is. The site goes live in a matter of hours and the record traffic crashes Harvard’s servers.
This achievement catches the attention of a trio of rich upper-classmen, twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). They approach Mark about creating a MySpace-style social site exclusive to Harvard students. Mark agrees to help, but the exclusivity angle inspires him to make his own site on the side, using the facebook profiles of various Harvard houses as a database. Within weeks, Mark and his roommates have engineered The Facebook, and its instant success rankles his former partners.
Narendra and the Winklevosses pursue legal action, but Mark snubs his nose as their puny cease and desist order. He neglects to tell his main backer and best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who thought the Facebook idea was Mark’s all along.
The rest of The Social Network concerns itself with Mark’s obsession with beefing up the site and making it as widespread as possible. He and Saverin disagree philosophically about what The Facebook should be building towards: Mark wants it to be a free community experience and social experiment; Eduardo sees the millions of dollars to be had through monetization.
The Facebook expands to other colleges, other states, and, eventually, to the UK—all with the help of shady new business partner and Napster founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Parker is a fantastic Devil, planting seeds of doubt about Saverin’s abilities in Mark’s head, and the film takes on a bitter hetero love triangle toward the end that’s as compelling and real as anything you’re likely to see in a movie this year.
Going into the film, I was worried that I’d have to watch a two-hour version of the trailer, in which Jesse Eisenberg smirks and insults his way past all of his co-stars. He plays Zuckerberg as a pompous little shit, alright, but he’s alternately repulsive and endearing; Eisenberg sells the conflicted genius who’s more at peace with lines of code than with human relationships. He understands on a logical level that his actions have hurt the few who’ve bothered to get close to him, but it isn’t until the very last shot of the film that we get the sense that the logic resonates with his heart. Eisenberg’s is a moving, nuanced performance that should generate buzz at awards season—if for no other reason than his ability to infuse Aaron Sorkin’s impossibly intricate dialogue with great acting.
Just as impressive is Andrew Garfield; he’s the film’s wide-eyed stooge, and a stand-in for everyone who wasn’t ready for the Facebook revolution. It’s unclear from the film if Saverin is well-off, or if he’s just really good with investing, and it’s this gray area that allows Garfield to play both earnest and savvy. He’s injected casually into the story as the “money man”, but as we see more of him and his relationship with Mark, we realize there’s a whole back-story that we’re not privy to; this history informs the snide remarks Mark makes, and tells us—without showing—why Eduardo sticks by his friend through all the betrayal and unscrupulous behavior until it’s literally impossible to do so. Garfield’s face registers every sincere blow to his understanding of how friendships are supposed to work.
The third banana is Aaron Sorkin (Technically, it’s Justin Timberlake—but I’ve been a fan of his acting since his breakout in Alpha Dog, and I can’t help anyone silly enough to have snickered as that bandwagon passed them by). I never watched The West Wing, but its reputation as a gripping drama that made the minutiae of Washington politics into popular entertainment speaks for itself. With The Social Network, he’s taken Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires and combined it with the testimony of three separate Facebook hearings to craft a screenplay that is at once dense and accessible.
You don’t have to know a bit-rate from Blogspot to get into the film; but if you’re a ‘net obsessive, you won’t feel patronized, either. The story and dialogue are music to the soul. Fair warning: You have to be alert from the moment the lights go down, as the insanely quick repartee jumps off in the first five seconds of the film. My head was spinning by minute two, and all I wanted was a rewind button and some subtitles.
The ultimate praise, though, goes to David Fincher. He’s surrounded himself with amazing talent and delivered the best film of 2010. The coolest thing about The Social Network is that it’s at the same time the most and least like any other Fincher movie. His love for interesting characters with big dreams and bigger lives is evidenced by the way he fetishizes the many dialogue scenes; but he’s also smart enough to leave his CG rollercoaster tricks in the bag.
The noticeable exception—actually it’s not noticeable at all—is Armie Hammer’s role as the Winkevoss twins. I had no idea until the end credits rolled that the parts were played by one guy. This goes beyond the simple cutting and split-screen tricks we’ve seen in the past; the Winklevosses interact seamlessly, and there are even slight differences (beyond the obvious haircut and style choices) that make Hammer look like a physically different person when he’s standing next to himself. Hammer, Fincher, and the effects gurus have created the most convincing fake person I’ve ever seen (and, yes, I remember Avatar).
The Social Network has big themes, social and personal, but it’s not a Message Movie. We all know what Facebook became and how it’s impacted everything from grammar to the way people communicate and treat each other (after all, what is Twitter if not Facebook-on-the-go?). Fincher and company wanted to tell the story of how it all began, and to point out that the seeds of the worldwide phenomenon were right there in all the conflict and controversy of some college kids’ dispute over who created a Web site. At one point, Zuckerberg says that he intended to put the entire social experience of college on-line, and there’s never been harder evidence of human beings’ inherent vanity, insecurity and desire to be heard and understood than Facebook.
But that’s just my heady interpretation of a movie that’s also classic, exhilarating fun. If you disagree, feel free to write something on my Wall.