The Social Network

How desperate would you have to be to steal something that didn’t belong to you?  I’m not talking about something physical; I mean an idea.  If you needed a terrific presentation to give at a staff meeting and overheard a discussion in your office of someone else’s plan, would you take it, change a few things and present it as your own?  Since it’s merely an idea and you bring your own spin to it, flesh it out and make it unique, how wrong can it be?  If that idea is Facebook, as it is in this week’s movie “The Social Network,” it will take a couple of rooms full of lawyers to decide just how many millions of dollars wrong it is.

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is having a bad night.  While fretting over getting into the exclusive clubs of Harvard to his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), he directly and indirectly insults her about a dozen times, leading to her ending their relationship.  Angry and a little drunk, Mark heads back to his dorm to blog some revenge.  While there, he comes up with an idea to post pictures of Harvard’s female undergrads on line in a “Who’s Hotter” contest called Face Mash.  Mark hacks into the various campus computer networks to get the photos and, with the help of an algorithm from roommate and best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the link for Face Mash is soon emailed to several people on campus.  The link gets passed around and, in a few hours, the Harvard computer network crashes from the overload of traffic.  This attracts the attention of twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) who have an idea for a kind of dating site exclusive to Harvard students and graduates called ConnectU which requires the user to have a Harvard email address.  They explain their idea to Mark who agrees to build their site but then approaches Eduardo with an idea he calls The Facebook that is very similar in design to ConnectU, but isn’t about dating; it’s about sharing information with only those people you choose to be your on line friends.  Eduardo puts up $1000 to purchase server access and Mark makes him CFO with a 30% stake in the company.  As The Facebook launches and expands to other college campuses, it attracts the attention of Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who wants to be involved in what he sees as the next big thing.  Sean’s reputation as a womanizer and drug user puts off Eduardo, but Mark is hooked on Sean’s star power and lofty pronouncements about the future of The Facebook (which he suggests should be shortened to just Facebook).  The company grows and soon major investors come on board, leading to a corporate reshuffling that sees Eduardo’s stake in Facebook shrink to less than one percent.  Eduardo, Divya and the Winklevoss twins sue Mark for what they see as their share of Facebook.

Put your thinking caps on and pay close attention, because “The Social Network” is a film that assumes you are intelligent and can understand dialog that’s delivered at machine-gun speed.  It is also a film that has only one truly sympathetic character and it’s not Mark Zuckerberg.  Eduardo Saverin is this films’ true emotional center as Zuckerberg is about as warm as a flag pole in an Alaskan winter.  Jesse Eisenberg inhabits the lead character with a kind of laser beam focus that is usually seen in people with some sort of mental disability like Asperger’s Syndrome.  Mark is tone deaf to what he says and its effect on those around him; but, that same tone deafness also hides the biting sarcasm that is aimed at anyone he considers to be in his way.  Eisenberg is a revelation in the movie.  He is best known for playing awkward, stammering teens in films like “Adventurland” and “Zombieland.”  Here, he’s as far from those characters as Pluto is from the sun.  Andrew Garfield will break your heart as Eduardo.  As he sees Mark slipping into the clutches of Sean Parker and when the financial trap is sprung on him late in the film, you can feel his hurt and anger in Garfield’s performance.  Justin Timberlake may be better known as a boy band singer, but his acting chops are pretty strong too.  Timberlake plays Parker like a serial killer/used car salesman:  He’s slick, sophisticated, intelligent and a heartless coward.  This just might get all three actors considerable notice at Oscar time. 

While based on real people and events, much of “The Social Network” is dramatized or entirely invented to make a more interesting dramatic film.  That’s not an indictment against writer Aaron Sorkin or director David Fincher as the filmmakers have produced a fascinating portrait of a tragically unlikable person who wants nothing more than to be liked.  The film is also a look at our increasing isolation from each other via social networking sites.  The film states Facebook as over 500-million users.  One wonders how many of these people, some with thousands of “friends,” actually interact in person or just get the latest news and gossip on their friends’ wall.

If you aren’t on Facebook, you may find most of this trivial.  In fact, it is; but it is trivial on a global scale.  The lawsuits generated by Facebook have been enormous and the two most infamous suits are the medium through which this story is told as the movie cuts between depositions for the two cases and flashbacks to the events.  It is an interesting method for telling a story that is this complex and has so many points of view.  It also is probably the only way to tell the story and keep up with all the players.  While the plot is complex, the core of it is not:  We all want to be liked.  Various brief scenes in the film show Zuckerberg’s aching need to be liked and accepted.  These scenes are pivotal to a movie that could have been bogged down by the accusations of intellectual property theft and the financial machinations to control a growing virtual empire.  It gives a very unlikable character a handhold the audience can grasp to keep from slipping into a well of hate.  At times, you almost feel sorry for the world’s youngest billionaire.

“The Social Network” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language.  The sexual content is very brief and contains no nudity.  There are two bathroom stall encounters going on simultaneously and some girl-girl kissing at a party.  There’s scattered drug use including hits off of a bong and cocaine snorted off of a woman’s belly.  Foul language is sparse and widely scattered.

The real Mark Zuckerberg calls “The Social Network” fiction, and it probably is for the most part.  That doesn’t take away from its powerful depictions of interesting, if not completely likable, characters and the worldwide phenomenon they created and fought over.  The fact it is based on real people and events just gives the movie an anchor that keeps it grounded in reality.  After all, if this were a completely made up story about fictional characters, who would believe it?

“The Social Network” gets five guitars.

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Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

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