“The Social Network,” directed by David Fincher, opened Friday to an excited Facebook Nation. Starring the heir to Michael Cera’s throne of awkward, Jesse Eisenberg, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “The Social Network” weaves together a fantastic story of Internet power plays and university intrigue.
The film begins in 2003, with a scene of Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg and his girlfriend in the midst of a break-up. Zuckerberg is a brilliant programmer fixated on the idea of social advancement and is so devastated by the break-up that he, drunkenly blogs about it on his LiveJournal, all while creating a website designed to allow users to rate the attractiveness of every woman at Harvard. Thus begins the chronicle of Facebook.
The film is then structured around the two lawsuits Zuckerberg faced in 2007. The first lawsuit is filed by Zuckerberg’s close friend and financial collaborator Eduardo Saverin (James Garfield) and the other by the wealthy, rowing, twin wunderkinds Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Josh Pence and Armie Hammer). Throughout the legal proceedings, the audience sees Facebook evolve from its beginnings as a wildly popular Harvard phenomenon, to its move to Palo Alto under the guidance of Napster-creator Sean Parker (played by none other than Justin Timberlake), and finally emerging as a social network behemoth valued at over 25 billion dollars.
Fincher’s direction fashioned “The Social Network” into an unabashedly cool experience. Fincher, who has also directed the critically acclaimed “Se7en” and “Fight Club,” has a keen understanding of what makes intellectual college kids squeal with delight. The film was sleek, streamlined and almost alarmingly captivating, much like Facebook itself.
“The Social Network” was based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires,” by Ben Mezrich, a man who seems to specialize in documenting the financial sagas of cocky undergrads from prestigious East Coast universities. He also wrote “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions,” which was converted into the film “21” in 2008. While the card counting plot in “21” was panned by critics as boring and cheesy, “The Social Network” redeems Mezrich’s film legacy. The audience, most of whom are themselves a part of Facebook’s 500-million strong empire, will find “The Social Network” engaging, informative and often hilarious.
The real Mark Zuckerberg has dismissed “The Social Network” as fiction, but the film treats the crucial components of the real Facebook story with remarkable accuracy. Everything from Zuckerberg’s proto-Facebook programs, encounters with the WASP demi-god Winklevoss twins, and collaboration and subsequent falling-out with Sean Parker, was rendered faithfully to actual events. “The Social Network” takes the most liberty with its portrayal of the Facebook crew as bong-ripping, status-obsessed nerds, but the characters are rich and believable within the context of the story as presented by the film.
The biggest fault of the film is that the writers (chief of whom is Andy Sorkin) insert a few characters that seem to exist solely to provide explicit social commentary on Facebook itself. A junior attorney played by Rashida Jones scoffs that Bosnians “don’t have roads, but they have Facebook,” inviting an obvious rumination on the world’s growing dependence on virtual social networks. Likewise, Zuckerberg’s (completely fictional) ex-girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara, delivers pedantic observations at various points in the film. Altogether, however, these characters spend less than 10 minutes on screen. For the most part, the film features witty dialogue, droll humor, and endlessly fascinating characters.
“The Social Network” is perhaps at its heart an evocative tribute to modern college culture. Facebook, and even more broadly, the Internet, have forged our generation’s collective college experience into something unrecognizable to the boys of “Animal House.” Instead of peeking into locker rooms and hosting midnight panty raids, we click through the 900 pictures tagged with our latest crush and change the relationship statuses of friends who have foolishly left their laptops open. This movie could well be the new classic college movie. See “The Social Network;” you’ll definitely like it.