Friday, March 4, 2011

The Social Network

...or, as Maddox has pointed out on his Facebook page, at all; Facebook has a limit of 5,000 friends.  Way to go, marketing people.

The Social Network is the semi-biographical story of Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and brains behind Facebook, based on the book The Accidental Billionaires.  After his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), broke up with him for completely understandable reasons, Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) does what comes natural for a computer nerd; he gets drunk, blogs about what a bitch Erica is, and does some computer programming.  If that isn't what you do when you're heartbroken, maybe you didn't go to Harvard.  Mark's programming is pretty genius, even though he's drunk; he hacks into Harvard's varied databases and finds pictures of basically every girl on campus --- his impromptu website pits random Harvard girl against random Harvard girl, with the users voting as to which girl is hotter.  It's just a harmless drunken prank until Mark's site crashes Harvard's network after only two hours online, and not anywhere near peak using hours.  This gets Mark placed on academic probation for hacking the school's databases and in the doghouse with just about every woman is Massachusetts.  It also plants the seed for a website that will encapsulate the college experience.  People want to know who's doing what, with whom, and see the pictures, right?  Well, Mark designs the website that can do all that and more!  Along the way, he manages to royally piss off his closest friends, as well as the Harvard upper crust that dangled social elitism before him.  But why does Mark do all this?

The Social Network has two amazing things going for it.  The first is the script by Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing and Sports Night (one of my favorites).  The other is Trent Reznor's score.  Before I go into Sorkin's writing, I have to show my appreciation for the music.  While I am a fan of Nine Inch Nails, I did not expect to be fully aware of the score in this movie; it is really good, and the story fits Reznor's traditional themes of rage and not fitting in like a glove.  Sorkin's script is about what you would expect from the man; it is fast-paced and witty.  I really like Sorkin, but he has a tendency to go for the witty instead of the heartfelt.  This movie is full of razor sharp barbs from Zuckerberg, but it is surprisingly sparse on heart.  That is nitpicking, of course; when you have a script that is this charming and witty, it sometimes feels like a low blow to point out that there really isn't much of an emotional core to the film.  Even without any moments that really hit home, this is a very entertaining script that manages to make business deals and computer programming both fun and thrilling.  Kudos to Sorkin.

I have no problem with the acting in this movie.  I generally enjoy Jesse Eisenberg (ever since the wonderfully abrasive Rodger Dodger), and it's nice to see him in a film that separates him from Michael Cera's geek-chic.  Eisenberg really showed off his promise here, delivering some truly fantastic dialogue (which I knew he was capable of), as well as displaying the most emotional depth I have seen from him, to date.  Eisenberg really carried the picture with his successful portrayal of the too-cool-for-school Zuckerberg, although there are several notable supporting cast members, including Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake (as the founder of Napster), Rashida Jones, and Brenda Song (who you might know from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody...or not).
How lucky is this jerk to be played by a former boy-band heartthrob?
Actually, Garfield gave a pretty solid supporting performance, but his character was painted as the nerd among nerds, which made him less likable.  I thought the antagonists were played decently well, too, even if Armie Hammer got credit for both of the Winklevoss twins; to play twins, a body double was used for one of the characters, with Armie's head transplanted on in post-production.  Armie was okay, as was Max Minghella as the Winklevoss's supporter.

That is part of the problem I have with The Social Network.  As much as I enjoy Eisenberg's performance, I was not terribly impressed with the rest of the cast.  It's not that I doubt the talent of up-and-comers like Andrew Garfield (the next Spider-Man) or Rooney Mara (Lisbeth in the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).  I just don't see Sorkin's script as a launching point for either talent.  This is a film that focuses almost solely on the main character.  It was fun to watch, granted, but seeing somebody be a clever asshole for two hours doesn't carry the weight of a character that actually forms relationships within a film.  There is a moment, toward the end of the film, that tries its best to make up for the lack of emotion in this movie, but it is just too little too late for me.

I'm not going to lie...Facebook is pretty addictive, and the story behind it is pretty interesting.  I acknowledge that this film over-dramatizes parts of the story, and I am more than willing to agree that this is a timely film.  Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the film is totally successful.  I think this movie wanted to be so much more important than it really was (kind of like Sorkin's Charlie Wilson's War) that it lost sight of what made it special in the first place.  This shouldn't have been a film about how cool or clever or appealing Mark Zuckerberg is/was/should be; it should have focused on the importance of friends and the irony of a social networker losing his only friends.

David Fincher is turning out to be a pretty reliable director (I haven't seen Zodiac yet, though), which surprises me.  I thought he was only able to tell fractured narratives, but The Social Network was pretty appealing.  I'm not a huge fan of the narrative split between present and past --- it kind of takes away the drama when you know the gist of what will happen --- but I liked the way Fincher handled the story.  It definitely would not have worked nearly as well as a chronological narrative.  He handled the actors pretty well, too.  I was a little worried about him after the horriborning The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but it looks like David Fincher, prestige picture director is here to stay for a while.

The Social Network might end up being one of the definitive movies of this generation.  That's kind of sad.  When you take a step back, this is a movie about emotional disconnect and business distrust; that may be a sign of the times, but it sure as hell isn't reassuring.  The script is pretty fantastic, but the lack of appealing secondary characters hinders this story.  It's a good effort, but it yearns for greatness that it doesn't quite reach.

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