Principal Cast : Jessie Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Brenda Song, Rashida Jones, Steve Sires, John Getz, David Selby, Denise Grayson, Douglas Urbanski, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Dustin Fitzsimons, Dakota Johnson, Trevor Wright.
Synopsis: The semi-fictional story of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, as seen through the lens of Hollywood, and how Facebook became the international phenomenon it is today.
It’s funny, that Facebook thing. I sit here at my computer, staring at the screen looking for a pithy way to start this review, a funny line about how the social networking platform co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg (I hesitate to use the term “founded”, because that kind of language could bring about a lawsuit, apparently), when I look up at the tabs open in my web browser and spot, not for the first time, the logo of that now ubiquitous website, staring right back. Perhaps in all of recent technological history, no other website has brought humanity together, created such division, and struck such a blow for communication across distance than Facebook. Google, perhaps? Facebook, the social networking phenomenon, made Mark Zuckerberg (and probably a bunch of others) exceedingly wealthy, created an entirely new way of communicating, and gave parents just one more reason to fear the home computer. Poking, liking, apps and walls later, Facebook is pretty much into everything online – almost every website carries it’s logo somewhere on a page or post (fernbyfilms.com is no exception – we’re just part of the crowd, I guess!) and it’s impossible to go a week without having at least one conversation about who you Facebooked, chatted to or found as an old friend. I’ll admit, the idea of making a film about a website seemed a little… well, self defeating, almost as if somebody said “hey, I don’t think we can promote Facebook enough, let’s make a film of it and see what happens!”. Watching this film a week after Aaron Sorkin picked up an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work here, as well as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross snagging a Best Original Score Oscar, I am happy to report that my initial misgivings have proven unfounded. The Social Network, even if it’s largely fabricated, or entirely false, is a riveting, if flawed, piece of film-making.
Young Harvard computer nerd Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg), having been dumped by his girlfriend, created a website designed to rate each girl on campus; resulting in the crashing of the Harvard servers. When he’s approached by a pair of twins (Armie Hammer) with a new idea for a social networking site, Zuckerberg creates one of his own, The Facebook, as a way for University students to communicate with each other. He sets up the site with his roommate-come-financial backer Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and the two quickly begin building their new enterprise into a successful, popular website. Zuckerberg and Saverin meet Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who provides the spark to set Facebook on the path to greatness: drive and focus. However, as Facebook becomes popular, the relationship between Zuckerberg and Saverin deteriorates, with Parker standing in the middle poking the fire with a stick. The story, told in flashback via the twin lawsuits Zuckerberg was going through at the time, seems to be an allegory of the theme of another, greater “American Dream” film, Wall Street – “Greed is good.”
The Social Network is, interestingly, filled with people being utterly antisocial towards each other – Zuckerberg most of all. All the people involved seem, for all intents, quite self involved, which is off-putting to start with. Nobody wants to see people sniping at each other, least of all people who should all have something better to do anyway, but Fincher’s film drags us into the world of Harvard bitchiness and backstabbing, and what a world it is. Jessie Eisenberg does Zuckerberg well, I guess, although since I don’t know the worlds youngest billionaire I suppose it could be way off the mark. A fair amount of internet blogging has paid specific attention to Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckerberg, pointing to the limited range he has as an actor – he’s pretty much the same character in every film, if you look closely enough. All which may be true, but I think The Social Network is a role that suits his ability perfectly: he’s withdrawn, anxious for people to acknowledge his genius, to give him positive feedback, and it’s this expectation of success with it’s subsequent failure (crashing Harvard’s server) that leads to his focus on creating Facebook. Eisenberg doesn’t have the depth of ability to fully realize a character as complex as Zuckerberg – considering Zuckerberg is one of the most famous geeks on the planet, and one of the most widely written about people in the last five years, it’s no wonder the film has a hard time trying to find where Zuckerberg’s true character lies. Sorkin isn’t game to stick with one character for his central story, instead hoping the ensemble will carry the film along with him.
Playing twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss must have been a chore for Armie Hamer, since he’s essentially the films primary special effect: he’s got enough ability, but the characters don’t seem to be fully fleshed out as much as their associate Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), whose drive for success is borne from his lower social status within the University. Hamer looks constipated the entire time, and the film struggles to find the real heart of the twins’ story. Rashida Jones has no chance to develop her character as a lawyer involved in the deposition of Zuckerberg during his two lawsuits, which seems to be a bit of a waste. Their conversations merely add to the loneliness and isolation Zuckerberg seems to have inflicted upon himself; the story goes nowhere. Which is a problem with the film, for me – what’s the point, exactly? Zuckerberg is such a wanker to everyone around him that he ends up alone, a lonely soul with all the power and money he could ever want and nobody to share it with. The film seems to indict him with the constant memory of the girl who dumped him (Rooney Mara), and wants this to be the driving force behind the creation of Facebook. Somehow, I don’t think this is entirely accurate, although it is a tinge of humanity in an otherwise inhuman film. I say inhuman because the film does tend towards the superfluous – none of the characters (save one, more on him in a moment) have much depth, floating along on the lyrical incessant ramblings of Sorkin’s screenplay – a screenplay that does justice to the story but ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. Is the film about the characters, or is it some kind of moral fable about the acquisition of power? I’m still not sure after several days of thought post-viewing.
Getting back to the cast for a moment, the one person in the film who I feel has the most to offer the audience is Andrew Garfield, as Zuckerberg’s Harvard roomie, and eventual Facebook CFO, Eduardo. While his story isn’t central to the film, his relationship breakdown with Zuckerberg is, and Garfield out-acts Eisenberg in all their scenes together. Of all the people represented in The Social Network, Eduardo is by far the most human, and the most easy to connect to. His story is the most sympathetic, with no explanation for his treatment by Zuckerberg and Sean Parker, and it’s here I think the films central conundrum is developed. With Eduardo being a character the audience can connect with, and the rest of the cast not in the same ballpark, we find ourselves rooting for the underdog – Eduardo – instead of the obvious leading character of Zuckerberg. Whether this was Fincher’s intent, or more likely a by-product of Sorkin’s screenplay, I’m not sure, but it slants the film atypically towards the very person we’d normally be despising about half way through the film. Truth is stranger than fiction, I guess. Still, I found myself starting to hate Zuckerberg, a feeling I wasn’t expecting, but actually enjoyed. On the flip side, I’d have to say Justin Timberlake has a great career as an actor ahead of him if he so chose, with his pitch perfect portrayal of Sean Parker. He’s glib, slick and knows the tricks, which he uses to insert himself into the Facebook surge. It’s this slimy character trait that I’ve no doubt is played up by Fincher a little, but the ambivalence of the script to his exact motivations left me a little confused. Was Parker malicious, or merely sneaky, manoeuvring himself into a position of power within the fledgling company?
Plenty of ink has been used to commentate on Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar winning script – a script that I’ll agree is filled with some wonderful monologues and dialogues, but a script that flows so quickly from the page and screen the actors seem to have trouble with the emotional aspect of it. It’s a talky film, and if you’re like my wife (who got a little lost with it all) then you’re probably going to need to rewind or re-watch the film to get all the subtle nuances it contains. Rory, over at Above The Line, made this astute observation regarding the script: “…it feels clunky in the mouths of these characters and very often lost expressions as though even they can’t keep up.” I agree with Rory for the most part – the dialogue is so fast, so refined, it’s almost -almost- unnatural. Still, the information it imparts is quite dense, so I guess it’s speed over brevity Sorkin went for, an imbalance which works against the quality of the characters.
One of the things I noticed that struck me about The Social Network was the lack of obvious Fincher-trickery in the camerawork and editing. Fincher’s early penchant for Robert Zemeckis’-like camera tricks seems to have waned in recent years in favour of a more traditional, excess-free feel, and The Social Network seems like the most traditional work he’s done since The Game. The visual effects are pretty obviously the doubling of Armie Hammer as the twins, and no doubt some others we’re all too visually impaired to recognize, which means Fincher’s use of them has gone from the overt to the sublime. The Social Network feels like a normal film, telling a good story (whether it’s true of not) in a simple, elegant way. I actually enjoyed it. The editing is superb, as is the cinematography, capturing the heady, dark nature of the film’s narrative with plenty of shadows and monochromatic colour schemes and washed out tones. Props to Jeff Cronenweth for the effort on that score. I will, however, stick my neck out and state that I don’t quite think the score, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, was an Oscar winning one. By comparison to other scores, The Social Network’s minimalist, repetitive score didn’t strike me as either particularly memorable or genre defining – so I’m not sure it deserved the win.
The Social Network is an enigma of a film, and a film I fear will fall foul of that great dating device of cinema – time. Its relevance now might be undisputed, but in about ten or twenty years, what will current kids make of its skewed stance towards the social networking phenomenon when they’re old enough to type on a keyboard and socially network online? Its relevance pertains to the here-and-now, and will probably be redundant in a few short years, which will limit its power. Zuckerberg’s portrayal as a backstabbing assclown may have further alienated the Facebook founder (the film had neither the backing nor the blessing nor the involvement of anybody from Facebook) from those who viewed the film, but time will tell if Fincher’s vision will be proved wrong. As a film, it’s a quality watch, although its point is a little hard to pin down. As a historical look at the creation of Facebook, it’s perhaps best to wait for the actual Zuckerberg to write his autobiography to get the truth. Until then, perhaps we can look forward to the inevitable sequel: a movie based on Google called The Search Engine?