Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Social Network

David Fincher's "The Social Network" is definitely an exciting film. It uses montage-style pacing throughout the entire film, and that's where its drive comes from. The film finds Jesse Eisenberg turning in the absolute best work of his career to date, where he takes a big step forward from "Zombieland" and "Adventureland." He plays Mark Zuckerberg, an amazing computer programmer who's at Harvard. After he crashes the networks of the school with a website that compares Harvard girls (stemming from being jilted by his girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara), he gets the notice of three elite club members (Max Minghella as Divya Narendra and Armie Hammer, who pulls off a double-role, as Olympic crew member twins Cameron and Tyler Winkevoss), who want to start a Harvard-based social network called The Harvard Connection and want Mark to be the programmer. What Mark does is take the idea, give the three the cold shoulder, and start making his own version of the site, which he thinks is "cooler," called ("putting the whole social experience of college online"). He justifies this plagiarism by pleading "I didn't use their code!" Pretty desperate, eh?

He pulls in his buddy Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as CFO, as Saverin is very good at finances. He then goes about designing the features that all Facebook users (including myself) are familiar with, like Relationship Status (which is the icing on the cake), and finally, putting it on the internet. With a little help from Eduardo's membership in the Phoenix club (thus having the email addresses of all the members to send the site to), the site outperforms what anyone thought it would, expanding across campuses and eventually reaching the eyes of ex-Napster founder and current paranoid creep Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who wants to get himself involved.

Imagine this already pretty complex plot (as Scott Foundas noted) funneled through 3 different narrative levels: (1) Mark's hearing when he's sued by the Winklevoss twins, (2) Mark's hearing when he's sued by Saverin, and (3) the time of Facebook's creation and inception into the culture. It must be said that however clunkily this first works, the film irons itself out and does this narrative structure pretty well.

This flashback/flashforward device is one of many ways that this film is similar to Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire." Another would be their good technical qualities ("Social"'s consisting of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's score and the tinted photography by Jeff Cronenweth). The most important, though, would be that these films would be very hard to continuously rewatch (just like, as Ebert said, Fincher's own "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which also has a similar build). "The Social Network" will also get pretty dated, which is a risk run by Fincher: to make it the "movie of the moment" (as I believe Peter Travers called it) or to make it a film that can outlast its release.

The film is well-acted, with Eisenberg possibly deserving a Best Actor nomination. Garfield also turns in some interesting work, as he goes from angry to scared surprisingly in an instance over the course of two scenes. Timberlake is pretty good as well, but his performance (as the man who may have somewhat screwed him over early into his music career) sometimes drifts into that "Justin zone" that works on Saturday Night Live but not here. I do appreciate moments of the club scene, where he describes the birth of Victoria's Secret (as well as Napster), while Zuckerberg sits puzzled. The film's sort of under-treatment of Parker's womanizing of the underaged is disturbingly offhand.

The screenplay, by Aaron Sorkin, is witty almost to a fault. Every line is a zinger, and although most of them are funny, when they don't work, they really don't work. And just about every character in the film has a dramatic exit, which is a little annoying. The film also ends in a somewhat disappointing way, although I perfectly understand it. I just was so captivated by the film that the sort of minor ending that they chose didn't help. On another note, it's an interesting thing to see the levels at which Ben Mezrich's books are adapted. Consider this film and Robert Luketic's "21." Similar subject matter and source material, yet one goes to the Oscars while the other one counts its cards. B


Jozeph Dukö said...

I'm really exited to see this movie because of Aaron Sorkin's work with the West Wing

Nick Duval said...

Well, if you like Sorkin, you will definitely not be disappointed.

Stephanie said...

After reading your review, I am looking forward to this movie even more.

Adelaide Dupont said...

I quite enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008-09 was a GREAT year for films!), so I am still making up my mind about The Social Network.

(Current first preference is The Tree, and my second preference is The Guardian Owls. Both are Australian, so if you want to catch some good Australian co-productions, then do take the opportunity).

My exposure to The social network has been immersed in the trailer. Great to hear about the narrative levels, and the ancillary coverage on "what Zuckerberg is really like".

My favourite part of the trailer would probably be when Mark stands up and talks about the significance of the technology which Facebook uses.

Nick Duval said...

@Stephanie I'm glad my writing can boost anticipation. I hope you enjoy the film. Very good first experience, though I'm not sure if it will age well.

@Adelaide I'm looking forward to "The Tree" if it comes Stateside.

Stephanie said...

I came back and re-read your review after seeing The Social Network with my friends last night. Good movie -- I agree that Jessie Eisenberg (sp?) was terrific. It's not easy to effectively portray a character who you both like and dislike simultaneously.:-)

Nick Duval said...


People have complained that he's "always playing the same role," but that works very well here, as he uses the laconic charm of his previous roles and then smashes the viewer into a brick wall with his meanness.

S. M. Rana said...

Saw it yesterday. Riveting, informative, precisely constructed, forgettable. Recommended.