10/15/10

Review: The Social Network (2010)


David Fincher's The Social Network, with screenplay by Aaron Sorkin from Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires (which I have not read), is a winning and stunningly contemporary dramatization of the creepy genii behind Facebook.

It features career-making performances from Jesse Eisenberg as founder Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield (soon to play Spider-Man, and so excellent here and in Never Let Me Go), as co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Justin Timberlake as Napster founder, Svengali and provocateur Sean Parker and Armie Hammer as Olympic rowers Cameron and Tyler, the Winklevoss twins. Hammer's dual performance using two human bodies and only one face is effective, perhaps even retroactively justifying the existence of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But that might be going too far.

Also featuring complex dialogue every bit as cutting, rapid-fire and packed with subtle meaning as that in His Girl Friday or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Social Network is sort of a Chariots of Fire of coding and Internet entrepreneurship, the Harvard-to-Silicon Valley rags-to-riches story of America's youngest billionaire and how he got there.

At the same time we do learn about that, The Social Network tells us almost nothing about Mark Zuckerberg the person, wherever one may come down on the minor controversy surrounding how much of the film's basis is factual. That's part of the beauty of the film.

Zuckerberg, as played by Eisenberg, is an autistic hurricane eye around whom swirl talent, ambition, greed, lust...but this isn't a review of Se7en. The point is that though some things are inferred or made out of the interstices of what facts are presented, they hold Zuckerberg in no light except justifiable fascination.

The film is told through the eyes of characters involved in two lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg and/or Facebook over its founding and ownership, by the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella, good), contending that Zuckerberg built Facebook while having agreed to work for their company with a similar idea crucial to it, and by Saverin, the first CFO of Facebook, contending that he was cheated out of his ownership share in the firm.

As such, the flashbacks we see as the film's standard narration are dependent, often relative as they are being related. It can be hard to keep track of whose version is being told, or if the details are being filled in and shared by more than one character's side as the story loops and doubles back. In fact, only scenes depicting and surrounding depositions are given any real credit as "reality" the way the stories are told, creating a tall tale about and starring Zuckerberg in which he as a person is curiously absent.

The film definitely fails the "Bechdel Test" for inclusion of women, but then again it's a very testosterone-fueled story however one might wish to portray that, so I can't find that a great criticism. Rooney Mara (most convincing in the new Nightmare on Elm Street and soon to play the heroine in Fincher's own Americanized The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) makes an impression as an old girlfriend of Zuckerberg's who can follow his mile-a-minute speeches and reply cogently. Brenda Song plays a jealous girlfriend memorably. And Rashida Jones plays a smart and competent attorney who also develops a rapport with the Zuck. I didn't find the film to be anti-woman at all. The characters are immature and at times sexist in their treatment of women. The film is not.

By any measure, The Social Network is an excellent and finely made film about technology, modern friendship and entrepreneurial gusto. It's a good time at the movies, bright commentary on our times and society, and a funny, moving story.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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