Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network is one of those rare films that excel on every level – the acting, the writing, the directing, the scoring… the purpose and the impact. It’s a film that defines the interconnectivity of a generation, presented to us via emulative characters and authoritative social conceits. It’s The Breakfast Club (1985) minus the charactures and tenderness, those things replaced by cutthroat aspiration and a Trent Reznor synth set.

Directed by David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Fight Club), The Social Network is better known as The Facebook Movie, as it details the origins of billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s internet-based brain child. There is some dispute to that ownership, however, spearheaded by Zuckerberg’s then Harvard classmates The Winklevoss twins, who claim he stole their idea. This film is about Zuckerberg’s battle with them, with their lawyers, with his ex-girlfriend, with his ex-best friend, and with basically the whole world. Fincher’s film presents the wiz-kid as devious, socially awkward, angry, lonely, vengeful and brilliant – i.e. the ideal mastermind behind an angsty, obsessive cultural zeitgeist.

As the tagline states - “You don’t get to 500 millions friends without making a few enemies”.

Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, Zombieland) portrays Zuckerberg as a dangerous wimp who just wants to be wanted. When his girlfriend rejects him, he goes home and develops a Harvard-based hot-or-not system, pitting photos of all his female classmates against each other and encouraging people to vote on their looks. He’s obsessed with Harvard’s Finals Clubs (like frats, but more exclusive), but when they shun him in favor of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, your new Spider-Man), Zuckerberg decides to build the ultimate social club, of which he’ll be president. Thus, a movement – and a movie – is born.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is the man who threads this all together, using Ben Mezrich’s book as source material, and Zuckerberg’s future lawsuits as a framing device. The result is a fluid sort of showmanship, a story that flows as quickly and accurately as Zuckerberg’s fingers on a keyboard. Its two parts expose, three parts social deconstruction, and wholly solid work.

And it provides an excellent foundation for Fincher, one of film’s premier architects. Fincher presents with his trademarked sharp darkness, bringing out the age of Harvard’s grounds and contrasting it with the glitziness of modernization. He uses high-society charmer Armie Hammer (heir to the Armand Hammer fortune) to portray the old-money magnetism of Cameron Winklevoss, then uses state-of-the-art cinema magic to put Armie’s head on Josh Pence’s body to portray Cameron’s twin Tyler. And he ices his production with the music of an alternative rock magnate – the soundtrack pulses with Reznor’s edginess, and throbs to the beat of amped ambition.

It all gels together decisively, a tenacious rendering of Facebook’s founding sons. It’s film about societal impact – society’s impact on them, and their impact on society. When Justin Timberlake’s Napster-nut Sean Parker swoops in to steer the Facebook ship, he brings with him all the entrapments of millennium youth.

“A million dollars isn’t cool,” he says. “You know what’s cool?”

“You?” a jealous Eduardo quips.

“A billion dollars,” he replies, with stars in his eyes and Zucker-putty in his hands.

Appropriately, Fincher’s film is cool, but not loveable. It’s a heartbreaker, a travesty, a portrait of the broken. And Zuckerberg is its poster-child. Fittingly, it’s Eisenberg who anchors the movie, relying on the familiar awkwardness he’s built his career on, but this time bringing something a little heavier, and a little darker to the role. Here he’s a put-upon genius with the devil in his eyes, a bad-guy lashing out as his good-guy licks his wounds somewhere deep inside. “You’re not an asshole,” an advisor tells him. “You’re just trying hard to be one.”

It’s a hard statement to capture, but Eisenberg does it. And in a film that does everything right, he’s the best of show.

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