The Social Network (2010), reviewed by Paula Farmer
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfiield, Justin Timberlake
Run Time: 120 minutes
It may not be a movie that “defines a generation” or turn out to be the “movie of the year,” but The Social Network is very good and worth watching. The Social Network may not even define, or some say, not accurately portray Mark Zuckerberg, the film’s central character who is the controversial computer whiz that created Facebook while an undergrad student at Harvard. The film certainly doesn’t purport to depict Zuckerberg as he is now, seven years later. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin explained during the NYFF press conference that the project was in no way meant to single Zuckerberg out or offend him. He went on to get across the impression that he personally understands if Zuckerberg feels awkward about the movie and its portrayal and he feels bad for him, but he (Zuckerberg) was invited early on to contribute to research and pre-production process, but declined. For that, Sorkin said, “I don’t blame him.”
The reality is the movie, directed by David Fincher, is not claiming to be a biopic at all. It is dark and entertaining dramatization of the inception of the social interactive website and its once questionable creator and owner, as in, who’s idea was it, therefore who should receive the financial benefits. Although a work of fiction, Sorkin defends his sources and the inspiration for the characterizations, including accessing the book, Accidental Billionaire by Ben Mezrich. Zuckerberg may have opted to distance himself from the project, but others involved in his life at the time and participating in the subsequent lawsuits did not.
But beyond all the Facebook creation controversy and now the almost equally controversial movie portrayal of its controversy, nothing can take away this film’s credibility, artistically speaking. The cinematic union of Sorkin and Fincher for this their first collaboration is brilliant, especially given that in theory it could have had every reason not to work. Sorkin, creator and writer of television masterpiece, The West Wing, among other things, is known for words, and a lot of them, spoken very rapidly by intelligent characters in heady situations. Fincher is known for being a slow moving, visual director, creating worlds in which dialogue can take a back seat to images, expressions and mood setting. Even Fincher admitted he was initially taken aback when receiving Sorkin’s opening. “It was the first time I had experienced receiving close to 20 pages of dialogue for a four-minute opening, but it worked and we were off to a great start.”
In The Social Network their worlds collide deftly, including that opening in which Zuckerberg’s condescending remarks to his girlfriend quickly and abrasively make her an ex-girlfriend. It is from a state of rejection that Zuckerberg spontaneously hacks and creates away to a new temporary website, Face Smash, that lands him notoriety and academic suspension. Without giving too much away, from there, a star and facebook are born, for better or worse. As his star and website grow, so too do the accusations and lawsuits. In a twist of irony, he loses friends and respect along the way.
The controversy is depicted in several disparate and concise ways: Three points of views for the legal proceedings, campus life, and Palo Alto start-up community. For all of this, the editing is great, as too are the photography, the writing and the casting. In the lead role, Jesse Eisenberg takes a departure from his usual clueless, affable characters to embrace this darker more intricate role. Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker is impressive and enjoyable, handling the role with surprising aplomb. The actors, Armie Hammer and Josh Pence that portray the lawsuit wielding Winklevoss twins refreshingly provide the comic relief.
All in all, The Social Network is an early and great way to launch the fall season of movie releases, which are usually more dramatic and substantive forms of the medium than other seasonal releases. A lot of the films will be seeing from October through the end of the year will be potential Oscar contenders and I’m sure The Social Network hopes to be among them.