“I just wish that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive”, laments Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Tough cookies. As unflattering as Zuckerberg’s portrayal in David Fincher’s The Social Network, you still can’t help but like the little diabolical genius, and even cheer him through most of the journey.
Centered on the founding years of the internet behemoth Facebook, The Social Network is an enjoyable, and even funny portrait of brilliance, obsessive creativity, and betrayal. Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) gets into hot water during his sophomore year at Harvard after an impulsively masterful night of whipping up computer code to create a website of shameful novelty, pitting photos of female co-eds against each other in the pursuit of rating “hotness” (inspired by a mix of getting dumped and alcohol). The stunt overloads the campus servers, and ends up with Zuckerberg facing six months of academic probation.
After meeting a set of twin brothers and their associate (all members of an exclusive Harvard “final club”) who dangle the prospect of bringing in Zuckerberg to help with the concept of creating a social network site just for Harvard students, called HarvardConnection, Zuckerberg is inspired to meld his previous controversial “facemash” site into a new creation: thefacebook.com.
With the monetary help of his “only friend” and eventual CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg feverishly balances his studies with his new obsession. The website is instantly successful on campus, which provokes the litigious wrath of his would be collaborators at HarvardConnection.
As Facebook expands beyond Harvard and goes through the roof, a rift develops between Zuckerberg and Saverin (the latter accepted into an elite final club, a dream denied to Zuckerberg). Throw in the influence of Napster creator and svengali Shawn Fanning (Justin Timberlake), and Zuckerberg’s closest friendship spirals into yet another legal nightmare.
The impressive Jesse Eisenberg, of Adventureland and Zombieland fame, is the perfect vessel for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s rapidfire dialogue, giving Zuckerberg’s relentless wunderkind an almost charming, autistic touch. Sorkin, writer of A Few Good Men and creator of The West Wing, who adapted Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, states in an interview with New York Magazine, “I don’t want my fidelity (to Mezrich’s source material) to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.” Add in the fact that Mezrich himself only consulted with former CFO and co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and it’s pretty clear the bent of the film, with Andrew Garfield’s Saverin as the most sympathetic character in the whole shebang. Nevertheless, Sorkin’s script does an admirable job of weaving the chronological narrative with Zuckerberg’s myriad legal battles.
Garfield (who shines in the first installment of the dreary yet incredible Red Riding trilogy, and can concurrently be seen in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go) is excellent as Zuckerberg’s initial money man and voice of reason who is tragically trounced as Facebook falls under the influence of Napster playboy Fanning (played well, both suave and wussy, by Justin Timberlake).
So where does director David Fincher figure into all of this? Luckily for those who found The Curious Case of Benjamin Button curiously grueling, Fincher thankfully defers to Sorkin’s vision, with certain exceptions, of course. For one, The Social Network certainly looks like a Fincher flick, with his unmistakable love all things brown (the late seventies/early eighties must have left quite the impression on Fincher when he was but a twentysomething). And the employment of Nine Inch Nails maestro Trent Reznor (with Atticus Ross) for the movie’s score provides the only edgy, doom-laden element that you’d come to expect from a Fincher film (with the exception of Button). The soundtrack is effectively atmospheric — throbbing and brooding — and even takes a shot at a Wendy Carlos-inspired “In the Hall of the Mountain King” during a British regatta scene involving Zuckerberg’s enemies from HarvardConnection.
Anyway, if you can find the time to step away from FarmVille for a couple hours, The Social Network may prove entertaining.