The Social Network (U.S., 2010) directed by David Fincher, 120 minutes
I am going to try and take on reviewing the Oscar nominees leading up to the 2011 Academy Awards on February 27, 2011 as I did last year.
By now the drama surrounding the creation of facebook is fairly well known. Should you need a refresher you can review the plot of the film here. I am more concerned with whether this film works as a film given the seemingly odd subject matter for a movie - the creation of a social media network, reproduced on film? I recently spent a fruitless evening trying to convince a near relation who had not seen it that the film was engaging and that it works. Amazingly well. He was adamant it would not. I find criticism by those who have not seen an artistic product amazingly unhelpful in assessing it.
Jesse Eisenberg, as the brilliant, socially awkward Mark Zuckerberg (presently the youngest billionaire in the world) has made an enormous leap in his persona as an actor - no longer just the nerdy, slightly sweet loser of Adventureland and Zombieland - Eisenberg demonstrates a cold ruthlessness and intelligence as Zuckerberg when he steamrolls over the Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss twins (both roles played by Armie Hammer), two rich, well connected Harvard students who, arguably, created the rudimentary facebook concept, and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (played by the British actor Andrew Garfield), who put up the initial modest stake in the development of the concept.
Aaron Sorkin (creator of the entertaining but long winded West Wing TV series) is more restrained here for the most part except for the long, wordy opening scene between Mark and his ex-girlfriend Erica Berger where they spar, wound each other verbally and then part forever. This pitches Zuckerberg into a long drunken night of spontaneously creating a website disparaging the co-eds of Harvard (more on that anon)...
There are no casting missteps here. Justin Timberlake is an appropriately snake-like Sean Parker, creator of Napster, who befriends Zuckerberg, introduces him to angel investors and advises Zuckerberg to change the name from "the facebook" to "facebook". Garfield is effective as the much maligned and hopeless Savarin, shoved out of the business by the more astute Zuckerberg and the conniving Parker.
No matter that Zuckerberg insists that one of the impetuses to creating facebook was not triggered by a particularly humiliating parting with girlfriend Erica Berger (hence the drunken night spent creating a website comparing photos of Harvard co-eds to each other and allowing male grads to dismiss one and favor another on-line) or by Zuckerberg's thwarted desire to be accepted into one of Harvard's final clubs.
No matter that it is still in question whether Zuckerberg stole the original idea from those preppie twits, the Winklevoss twins, and their partner Divya Narendra. That has all been settled in court although both sides still dispute the veracity of the others' claims. Or maybe not...
No matter that the most strenuous activity in the film (aside from the Winklevosses' rowing) is a rushing to computers once a brilliant idea hits.
I thought I would come to despise Zuckerberg in this film. But the screenwriter Sorkin and the director Fincher seduce us from the beginning. They make you secretly cheer the humbling of the obnoxious Winklevosses who will only permit Zuckerberg to stand in the foyer of their exclusive club when discussing their idea for facebook. It is unspoken but clear that Zuckerberg's status as a middle class Jewish outsider stings.
When we see Zuckerberg making a friend request to the long gone Erica (she too has embraced his creation despite their row - what a Pyrrhic victory that may seem at times) and then idly clicking refresh repeatedly, it sadly epitomizes the boy's isolation and loneliness.
The film has all the elements of great drama: ambition, desire, betrayal, hubris, love, a David and Goliath motif. It all works brilliantly.
And despite Zuckerberg's initial understandable resistance to the film, he has shown grace in the aftermath of the film's success allowing himself to be satirized and then standing on the same stage as Eisenberg on the SNL show broadcast on January 29, 2011 (and even giving what appeared to be a heartfelt if tentative hug to the visibly nervous Eisenberg).
If you're going to accept the role of boy billionaire, you might as well play it as a self-effacing, humble one.