Friday, October 1, 2010

Absorbing 'Social Network' is high profile, fascinating

By Steve Crum
Ironies abound in The Social Network, a fact-based, fictional film about the creation, impact, and financial gold strike of Facebook. The first irony is that I had to tear myself away from Facebook at home to drive to a screening of a movie about the very addictive site I just left. Irony 2 involves the story’s main character, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who conceived the idea for the world’s largest Internet chat room, yet has scarce public social mores himself. In fact (Irony 3), virtually everyone involved with the technical and business parts of Facebook appears to have negligible one-to-one communication skills.

The Social Network is a fascinating, absorbing film well worth friending.

Opening at a Boston bar in 2003, the story focuses on nerdy Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg as he repeatedly, dare say intellectually, insults his girlfriend (Rooney Mara). After she sharply tells him off and leaves, he storms back to his dorm room, determined to revenge himself by posting negatives about her on his blog. It turns out to be a near lethal move on his part. His displeasure then turns to rampage against all female students. Zuckerberg hacks into Harvard’s main frame to access sorority photos he then exploits via “Hot or Not” beauty contests posted on Harvard’s network. Feedback is immediate and lasting; thousands of Harvard students are viewing his postings.

A couple of steps down the line, Zuckerberg’s genius computer skills further refined, the origins of Facebook emerge. Like Facebook, the plot is about the step-by-step connections that led to its creation and popularity.

The Social Network’s credentials are stellar. Director David Finch also helmed Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, two superb films noted for their innovative, precise storytelling. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin penned Charlie Wilson’s War as well as 154 episodes of TV’s The West Wing. Sorkin has taken Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires, and structured TSN around the numerous lawsuit hearings that occurred as Facebook grew to worldwide popularity. For example, litigant Zuckerberg and his attorney face off behind closed doors against former Facebook partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and his counsel. Flash back to the origin of their conflict when the two were Harvard roommates just beginning their website.

The flashbacks reveal the growing problems, many of them ego-based, that led to to mistrust and legal backstabbing. Amongst the fray is Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who befriends Zuckerberg not long after Facebook launch, and immediately causes more rifts within the growing Facebook empire. Timberlake, incidentally, does a fine job as the Napster music site entrepreneur.

The two leads, however, give the film its credible base. Saverin portrays Garfield as an insecure, constant whiner, contrasted to Eisenberg’s rapidly speaking, distant, and pretty much emotionless egghead, Zuckerberg. He comes across as a close cousin of The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, minus the humor.

It is difficult to feel empathy when the lead characters are millionaires beset by lawsuits threatening their megabucks. An on-screen tag informs us that Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world.

Witnessing their ego-based tantrums certainly does not trigger our tear ducts either. It is sort of like observing a fender bender between two Rolls-Royces. However, the attraction of wealth colliding with wealth is unique voyeurism. Fincher and Sorkin understand that tableau quite well, being very good storytellers.

GRADE on Scale of A to F: A-
Trailer of The Social Network:

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