The Social Network (2010)

5 Oct


For once, I can't think of anything snarky to say. Jesse Eisenberg is just brilliant.

The irony of checking into Foursquare and posting simultaneously to Facebook and Twitter from the theatre where I was seeing “The Social Network” — otherwise known as “That Facebook Movie” — was not lost on me. It felt terribly meta, and yet it would seem strange to not comment on what film I was seeing this week. While “The Social Network” is a film about the creation of Facebook, it is also a film about why that sense of connectedness it provides is so very important, and that’s what makes this film brilliant.

“The Social Network” details the creation of the now ubiquitous website from its pre-origin through its high-profile lawsuits. After proving his computing prowess by setting up a localized hot-or-not style website using pictures of his female Harvard classmates, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is headhunted by members of the university’s powerful Porcellian final club to code a project they’d been developing. The project as proposed by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda is akin to an exclusive dating site which requires a e-mail address to join. From that kernel of inspiration, Zuckerberg, together with financial support from his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and programming help from his roommates, created what we now know as Facebook. The popularity of the site grew faster than either Zuckerberg or Saverin could have imagined, and it’s not until a fateful meeting with Napster whiz kid Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) that Zuckerberg has any inkling of how big his idea can become or how destructive that growth can be.

I feel a lot better about Rooney Mara's casting as Lisbeth Salander after watching her hold her own in some heavyweight scenes in "The Social Network."

But all this is only part of what this film is about. The story of the meteoric rise of Facebook is certainly the most obvious facet, and that story is beautifully told. In some ways, “The Social Network,” for all its commenting on a modern phenomenon, is a quite old-fashioned movie. Aaron Sorkin’s masterful screenplay incorporates “Rashomon”-esque techniques to unite several plot threads into a cohesive unit, cutting not only between characters and locations, but also between past and present events in a way that creates a frantic pace without outpacing its audience. Sorkin’s script intuits that the technical jargon will fly over most viewers’ heads, and so he makes it so it won’t matter if those lines run together. The pacing of the delivery and the reactions of the other characters tell us all we need to know about what the dialogue actually means; we don’t need to comprehend it to understand it.

Performance becomes crucial in such a dialogue-heavy film, and the work done in “The Social Network” is striking. Eisenberg is just astonishing in his portrayal of Zuckerberg. Not only is this a role which demands extraordinary focus from an actor, it’s one which presents a unique emotional challenge. Eisenberg perfectly crystallizes the duality of the character, the line he walks between good and bad, arrogant and insecure, manipulative and innocent. All those contrasts don’t play out in Eisenberg’s lines and lines and dialogue, no, all that plays out in subtle changes on his face, the way he may take a deeper breath here or there, the way his posture shifts from scene to scene. The nature of his performance is understated and measured, but it shows no less bravura than the most impassioned one. Eisenberg is a treasure.

He doesn’t keep this movie afloat all on his own, though. He gets considerable help from Andrew Garfield in his role as Saverin. Garfield’s is the most openly emotional role in the film, and it requires a great deal of restraint to keep the hurt and anger that he openly portrays from going overboard. There is no tearing of hair or gnashing of teeth, just genuine boiling-over anger born of bewilderment, those hot tears of fury mingled with embarrassment. Garfield’s performance is all the more moving because it is so realistic. Timberlake also deserves praise for the  impact he has on the film given his relatively short amount of screentime. Whereas Eisenberg only gives hints of the cracks in Zuckerberg’s facade, Timberlake is called upon to create an over-the-top personality and then let that mask drop completely. I worried that Timberlake’s presence in a movie otherwise populated with lesser-known actors would prove distracting. I shouldn’t have; Timberlake is a far greater actor than I would have believed possible. It won’t surprise me if he garners an Oscar nomination for his work here.

Even if you hate Justin Timberlake, it totally won't matter. He's so good here that you barely even realize you're watching a international pop megastar.

Director David Fincher engages in one bit of technical prowess that is simply jaw-dropping. Since the film has been out less than a week, I’m choosing not to comment directly on the nature of the effects, except to say it might the best ever employment said effects. Fincher also chooses not to overtly wow us with camera tricks or overt stylishness in this feature, and this is a smart move. Instead, he uses his mastery of the medium to infuse the film with a sense of intimacy that is in marked contrast to the isolation presented in the script. Friends are grouped closely together in dimly lit rooms, tight in the frame. The dialogue flies past while the camera stays still. It’s a clever bit of filmmaking that hints at deeper meaning.

For while “The Social Network” purports to be a simple account of a powerful website, it’s also an account of a powerful shift in the way society perceives relationships and how these relationships progress in the new landscape of the Internet.  One could make the point that Facebook, while arguably bringing some people closer together, also creates a false sense of community where we all have hundreds of “friends” who all care about our every status update, our every photo, our every change in relationship status. Zuckerberg has insight into what people would use a social networking site for, but he has no social network of his own. Loneliness permeates every corner of this film — Saverin is the most socially accpeted of the core Facebook developers, which makes him an outsider in his own business; Zuckerberg watches as Saverin and Parker each benefit socially from the company without seeing any of those benefits himself; the Winklevoss twins even get a little of that outsider feel in a few sequences. “The Social Network” takes that overall theme of loneliness and extrapolates it to a generation a whole, pointedly commenting on how intangible all this connectivity really is and also on how very much we seem to need it. By virtue of both nature and subject, this a defining film for this generation. Four stars out of four.

“The Social Network”: Rated PG-13. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Bryan Barter, Dustin Fitzsimmons, Armie Hammer, Joseph Mazzello, Patrick Mapel, Max Minghella, Andrew Garfield, John Getz, Rashida Jones and Justin Timberlake. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. Cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth. Edited by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall. Original music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.




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