Monday, October 4, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network

The Social Network ****
Directed by:
David Fincher.
Written By: Aaron Sorkin based on the book by Ben Mezrich.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg), Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), Armie Hammer (Cameron/Tyler Winklevoss), Rooney Mara (Erica Albright), Max Minghella (Divya Narendra), Joseph Mazzello (Dustin Moskovitz), Rashida Jones (Marylin Delpy), Brenda Song (Christy), Malese Jow (Alice).

The Social Network has already been compared to Citizen Kane, and while most of the time, I would dismiss this as critical hyperbole, in this case the critics who have said this actually have a point. Not because this film is as good as Welles masterpiece, but because thematically the two movies are linked. Both are about the American Dream gone wrong - about a man who has accomplished everything that he should have longed for, but is still desperately alone. And when his one true friendship ends, because of his own actions, it signals that he has finally gone too far to come back. The difference of course is that when Citizen Kane ended, Charles Foster Kane was dead. But when The Social Network ends, Mark Zuckerberg is still in his early twenties, and has most of his life ahead of him. While it was too late for Kane, it’s not for Mark Zuckerberg.

The Social Network opens which is perhaps the best opening scene of any movie this year. Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg) is sitting in a bar with his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) telling her about the Harvard Final Clubs, and how great it would be to me in them. Their conversation moves at light speed - as most in the movie do, in classic Aaron Sorkin style, who has perhaps written the best screenplay of the year - but it essentially boils down to this - Zuckerberg is smarter than almost everyone else, especially his own girlfriend, and he wants to be cool. But he never will be cool - he will always be a nerd. When Erica finally has enough of being insulted she stands up and tells him “You’re going to go through your whole life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. But that’s not the reason. The reason is that you’re an asshole”. Everything Zuckerberg does for the rest of the movie is essentially done to both disprove and prove her argument.

Zuckerberg is one of the smartest guys at Harvard, which is saying something. But he is still a loser, who hangs out with his loser friends, and when Erica dumps him, he decides to get some revenge. He hacks into multiple Harvard databases, all in one night, and pulls out a picture of every undergrad girl on campus and creates a website called “Facemash”, where you can vote on which one of two girls is hotter. He not only does this all in one night, he also live blogs it. The site is an instant hit, but collapses almost right away, and when the girls in Harvard find out who is behind it, he is even more of a pariah than he was before. But then he decides to create another website - this one called The Facebook, which allows users to find out what their friends are doing, who is single, who is available. His essential idea is to take the college experience and put it online. This becomes an even bigger hit.

The film is structured in flashback, looking at how Zuckerberg and his friends built site, and then flashes forward to depositions being given in not one, but two, lawsuits against him and Facebook. One is filed by the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer). The Winklevoss are spoiled rich kids, who row crew for Harvard, and say that they had the idea for Facebook first, and that Zuckerberg screwed them over. The other is by Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who was Zuckerberg’s best friend, and original financial backer - and first CFO of Facebook - who Zuckerberg will also screw over.

Zuckerberg, as written by Sorkin and acted by Eisenberg, is one of the most fascinating characters of the year. They don’t take the easy way out and portray Zuckerberg either as a misunderstand rebel genius, nor as an unrepentant asshole. He is neither and both. What he really seems to be is someone who has no real clue at how to interact with other people. He doesn’t understand what he said wrong to Erica in that opening scene - even though he implied she was stupid because she was only going to UB (“why do you need to study”) and that she should be grateful that Zuckerberg is willing to date her at all. Later, when he clearly screws over his best friend, he again doesn’t seem to realize why he is so mad at him - the fact that he essentially tried to screw him out of hundreds of millions of dollars doesn’t seem to enter Zuckerberg’s mind.

David Fincher is a little more subdued than normal in his direction of this film - although there are some virtuoso sequences in the films, and his use of Trent Reznor’s music is the best it has ever been in a Fincher film. This is a more straight forward film for him - one that follows the lead of the great screenplay by Aaron Sorkin that captures college life perfectly, is full of whip smart, rapid fire dialogue that actually works, and creates vivid characters., not just Zuckerberg. The Winklevoss twins are a perfect example of spoiled, rich kids who as Zuckerberg correctly says is only suing him because “for the first time in their lives things didn’t work out how they were supposed to for them”. Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Serverin is perhaps the only truly sympathetic character in the movie - he is the only one comfortable in his own skin, the only one who truly likes Zuckerberg for who he is, not for what he can do for him. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) represents to Zuckerberg what he wants to be - a cool nerd, who can get any girl, and walks around like he owns everyone - even though as the founder of Napster, he actually has no money. For his part, Timberlake plays the role brilliantly - that of the nerd with no self confidence who has tried so hard to be cool, that he has fooled everyone, including himself, into think it’s actually true. His best scene is when he is being arrested for drug possession, and has to admit that what is in his pocket is his epee pen and inhaler. No matter how cool everyone thinks he is, he will always be a nerd.

And that’s true of Zuckerberg as well. He hates being a nerd - and that is perhaps why he screws over the Winklevoss twins. He is good enough for them to want to work for them, but when it comes to their Final Club, they won’t invite him past the bike room because he isn’t a member. And maybe that’s what angers him about Eduardo as well - that he was invited to belong to a Final Club, and he never was, and because he gets some of the credit for creating Facebook, when to Zuckerberg, it was all him and everyone else just tagged along behind him. He comes across as an asshole, but as one character observes “you’re not an asshole. You’re just trying really hard to be one”. No matter what Zuckerberg accomplishes, no matter how much money he has, he will always be the guy who hesitates before inviting the girl he likes to be his friend on facebook - and then constantly hits refresh to see if she has accepted.

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