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By John Druska · October 4, 2010
The first thing you have to know about THE SOCIAL NETWORK is that, much like the real facebook, it’s a lot funnier than you might think going in. The other thing I had heard about the film before I saw it, is that much like the real facebook, the vast majority of it is inaccurate and untrue. Perhaps because we (or almost all of us, that is) are still living in and interacting with the history of this story, we subconsciously assumed it was almost a documentary. The film makes no claims; no “based on a true story,” just based on the book telling a similar story. But make no mistake, whether director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin took liberties with their source material or stayed true to the facts of this very real worldwide phenomenon, THE SOCIAL NETWORK is one damn good movie. Spoilers follow.
The film follows three storylines, the most prominent being Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and their crew of computer programming pals on the birthday and subsequent infancy of thefacebook.com (remember when it was called that?!) on the campus of Harvard University. Early on, two more stories are juxtaposed somewhat choppily against this driving narrative, those of Zuckerberg sitting in sterile, stuffy board rooms staring down lawsuit-filing opponents over money they believe Zuckerberg owes them over the astronomical rise of the website — the more interesting of these lawsuit-filers is Saverin himself.
What doesn’t appear to make much sense in these vignettes begins to fall into place as we see more of the drama at Harvard, being revisited through the testimonies at the two legal proceedings: Zuckerberg’s unrivaled computer programming prowess and flawed ambition to achieve social heights; Saverin’s loyalty to him, own genius and similar yet more humble ambition, and the Winklevoss Twins (brilliantly played by one actor, Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), ever so slightly bringing Zuckerberg into the upper echelon of Harvard social politics to allegedly give him the idea that would spawn facebook. The website spreads like wildfire (as you may recall) and even in the microcosm of a college town, soon Zuckerberg and Saverin are celebrities, reaping the rewards and already preliminarily bumping heads; Eduardo wants to make money off of the popularity, Mark simply loves that something so cool is all his…oh, and Eduardo’s…
And therein lies the most compelling drama of the story. We never see Zuckerberg’s truly outlandish wealth materialize; despite what the trailer might tell you, there’s very little nightclubs and sex and sports cars. We see two very close friends slowly pull away from each other as what they initially created for fun becomes so big none of their ambitions or convictions, regardless of how different, can sustain. By the time Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) comes along and seduces Zuckerberg with dotcom stories, lies and exaggerations, we know where this is going. Exactly how it all goes down is what keeps us intrigued.
Which leads us to Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, predictably the best of the film. Eisenberg shakes off once and for all the undeserved Michael Cera comparisons by playing a highly believable and complex,…well….asshole. As oblivious as he seems regarding almost everything, you can tell early on the one thing Zuckerberg grasps is cutthroat competition, even over the pettiest things — and the value of a snide insult. His inadvertent socially scathing missteps in the beginning of the movie morph into more and more calculated, self-centered, dog-eat-dog maneuvers to one up those around him: his enemies and those who will soon be. These manifest themselves long before the rock-star Parker gets his tentacles around Zuckerberg, but it’s Napster who pushes him over the edge. The Zuckerberg/Saverin split is far more compelling than the “WinkleVi” and Narendra double cross because the parties involved were friends, just desperate, nerdy college kids ripped apart by money and wall posts. The trifecta of elites Zuckerberg spurns are just jocks getting pwned like n00bs by the AV Club; we all think they deserve it.
All of the performances are great. Andrew Garfield will be giving Shia LaBeouf a run for roles in the future and Timberlake plays a simultaneously insecure and boisterous douchenozzle to a T. And as mentioned, Armie Hammer, playing both Winlklevoss twins, turns in a particularly interesting and hilarious portrayal of like-minded siblings who deep down are still rivals. This is far from the only dynamic that is rife with hilarity, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s script. You can’t pick a highlight, from the opening sequence where Zuckerberg loses a girlfriend due to his inept rudeness, to countless bits of banter in the legal proceedings to the Winklevosses confronting the President of Harvard. The lightheartedness and perfect personification of not-yet-real-world college priorities only makes the truly powerful endgame realizations that much more heart wrenching (props to Garfield in his final onscreen appearance, damning Zuckerberg for his betrayal, calmly and like a professional, fighting back tears). As if you’d expect anything less from Aaron Sorkin.
I don’t know if it was Sorkin’s script, Fincher’s direction or the editing, but under a less capable team, the triple storyline and at times premature jumps back and forth would render the story never fully complete, but by engrossing us in the social world of Harvard (turns out they ARE all dicks) and then inviting us bit by bit into the shark infested legal battles, we really feel like we were there for it all, just like those pictures on facebook from last weekend.
And one more note: early on, we are introduced to Trent Reznor’s metallic, droning original score, and we are reminded, despite the quirky humor and snappy dialogue, this is ultimately a sad story, a biography of a guy who might be the youngest billionaire on earth, but can’t even earn the facebook friendship of a spurned ex, which is a brilliant illustration of precisely how emotionally important those clicks of the mouse are nowadays.
I tend not to recommend “you gotta see this today!!!” flicks unless they’re hysterical comedies or awesome action flicks. It would behoove you to see THE SOCIAL NETWORK anyway, because everyone else probably already has and you ironically will not be able to avoid spoilers on facebook. But I will say this, if you don’t see it in theaters, see it before awards season.
4 out of 4 friendship requests.