It was an intriguing idea from the get-go, to make a movie about Facebook, if not an amusing one because – what would that project be: a we’re-all-connected-look-us-fall-in-love rom-com? a fictional dramatization? a documentary?
The answer is David Fincher’s first-rate The Social Network.
Written by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, TV’s The West Wing), this film is a character-driven bio-drama starring an outstanding young cast led by Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland), Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Armie Hammer.
The film is one of the year’s best not only because of its production values, which are many, but because of its ability to tap into the zeitgeist in an effective, adult way.
It is a piercing look at the rise to billionaire riches of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who’s played by Eisenberg with a knowing and winning combination of unabashed ambitious a--holeness and well-hidden insecure humanity. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is a smug, cocky S.O.B. Is this were a straightforward work of fiction, he’d be the villain. No question about it.
Except The Social Network isn’t fiction.
It’s based on actual people, on actual events, on an actual, oh-so-relevant piece of pop culture enjoyed by more than 500 million people around the world.... It’s also based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires. And on accounts and even anecdotal stories that Sorkin collected from various sources, including a quite famous one.
At its very core, though, this is a revenge-of-a-nerd story.
Facebook, or TheFacebook as it first went by, was born one boozy night in the fall of 2003 after Zuckerberg, scorned by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), goes back to his dorm to blog-bash her the night away. He works out his brokenhearted – more like ego-bruised – issues by hacking into the directories of all of Harvard and creating a site that pits two girls against each other so that people (boys) can rate them based on their hotness. A real class-act move, one that gets him in a lot of trouble the next day.
It also gets him noticed by a beyond-elite final club, which is just the kind of attention the Zucks (no one calls him that in the film; I just made that up) has been craving. He wants to be an insider, even though he seems to have nothing but contempt for...anyone who isn’t him, really. It’s the exquisite contradiction of being a visionary, I guess.
Pretty soon, he’s approached by the all-American golden-boys Winklevoss twins (played with almost-superhero-like largesse by Hammer, who some may remember from a stint on TV’s Gossip Girl), who, together with their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), the film tells us, actually thought of the idea that would evolve into Facebook. They need him to get the site programmed and functioning. They need him.
Except, the Zucks figures, he no longer needs or wants them. So he takes their idea, to build an exclusive social network, and runs with it. He runs to Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), actually, his earnest BFF...they guy who gave him the algorithm he needed to make his original site go wild...and the guy who would become his CFO.
The rest is e-world-domination history, but as The Social Network unfolds, it does so against the dramatic setting of two real-life-like-pretty-much-everything-else-in-the-film lawsuits: the one the wonder twins and their associate hit Zuckerberg with for stealing their idea, and the one Saverin filed for getting unceremoniously edged out of the company.
Is it the cost of greatness, or is it Zuckerberg being Zuckerberg, going with the flow of things so as not to deal with the rejection he felt when his girlfriend dumped him...rejection he never wanted to feel again?
This is a guy who would rather drop you like a hot potato before you even think to do that to him.
That is what I took away, for instance, from his relationship with the siren-y Sean Parker (Timberlake), the high-rollin’ wunderkind of Napster fame. Zuckerberg is happy to go along with everything Parker says, even dropping Saverin, but as soon as Parker screws up (which we’re made aware he would sooner or later), the Zucks just shuts him out, albeit reluctantly (Eisenberg played this brilliantly on the scene in which he gets a not-so-great phone call from Parker, like he was...hurt, even betrayed). The guy’s the smartest barnacle in the sea.
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My Rating ****
Photo: Columbia Pictures.