The Social Network, reviewed by George Wu

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George Wu
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The Social Network (2010), reviewed by George Wu

Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
MPAA rating: PG-13
Run Time: minutes

The Social Network is the New York Film Festival’s opening night movie, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen.  It’s by a hot American director, it ostensibly looks at a trendy social phenomenon in supplying the origin of Facebook, and it’s flashy as hell given its subject matter.  It also doesn’t hurt that it’s pretty good.

First, let’s clear up one possible misconception about the film.  Despite the title and at least one teaser trailer, the movie is barely about Facebook the website itself and all about how the entrepreneurship of Facebook destroyed relationships between best friends and business partners.  So it’s no surprise that the movie opens with the breakup of a young couple – overbearing Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Boston University student Erica Albright (Rooney Mara).  Mark is the vindictive type so he immediately writes a nasty post about Erica on his blog and gets his frustrations out by instantly creating a website that allows users to vote between the hottest Harvard women based on their photographs, which he obtains through hacking.  The site garners 22,000 hits in two hours and crashes Harvard’s network (hey, it was 2003).

This sequence makes Mark look like Mozart in Amadeus as his computer skills get around security and other obstacles in website after website.  Writer Aaron Sorkin also makes Mark a sort of Nietzschean ubermensch who sees his talent as making ethics something only other people need to worry about.  Mark considers ethics only insofar as others perceiving his lacking them will hinder his ascension to power, in other words, bad Facebook public relations.

Mark’s talent gets him noticed by fellow Harvard students Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), tall handsome wealthy twins (who will also become future Olympian rowers).  They recruit him to make a social networking site, but Mark instead enlists his roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) to make their own site.  As the Facebook site takes off, Mark is approached by charismatic Napster-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who is happy to give Mark advice.

Like Mark, Sean says he’s not in it for the money even as his lifestyle screams otherwise.  He always takes Mark to restaurants and nightclubs where the staff knows Sean’s name, he has a Victoria Secret model hanging off his arm, he indulges those around him, and he always grabs the check.  Sean becomes the suave devil tempting Mark over his shoulder while ineffectual CFO Eduardo falls by the wayside.  Sean, at least initially, is who Mark wishes he himself was – someone who can overcome his lack of social skills, someone who gets respect (Mark adopts a business card that says “I’m CEO, bitch”), and someone who gets the girl – but is that who he is and is he willing to pay the price to get there?

As directed by David Fincher, the movie is like Sean, full of flash and charm.  Fincher’s direction, with lots of camera movement and movement of bodies within the frame enhanced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ pulsating music, is about as dazzling as you’re going to get for a movie about a bunch of people making a web site.  Fincher also keeps everything at such a rapid pace, one doesn’t have much time to realize just how conventional Sorkin’s narrative is and how it loses its way in the second half becoming more Eduardo’s story than Mark’s.
Sorkin does write a whole lot of funny, sharp dialogue, but when he’s being serious or making thematic statements, it’s sometimes too pointed.  One of Mark’s attorneys, Marylin Delpy (Rashida Jones) tells him, “You’re not an asshole.  You’re just trying too hard to be one,” and says at another point, “Creation myths need a devil.” Fincher himself has characterized Sorkin’s dialogue as “Sorkinese” – characters saying what they’re thinking out loud.

The Social Network is a little too slick and pat, but it’s so well made that so as long as you take the movie as an entertaining ride and not as some big statement on society or capitalism or even Mark Zuckerberg, then it goes down well enough.

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