Friday, January 14, 2011

The Social Network: Grade B

The Social Network (2010)
Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake; Director David Fincher.

Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerman, founder of Facebook, and this is his story. In his Harvard dorm room he builds a web site showing pictures and bios of Harvard women, ostensibly for guys to rate their “hotness.” It evolves into the Facebook we know today.

Sound boring? It does, but it isn’t, because of the excellent writing (Aaron Sorkin) and acting. The drama alternates between a present-day legal hearing, in which several of Zuckerman’s classmates are suing him for stealing their idea for Facebook, and the historical unfolding, from Zuckerman’s point of view, of what actually happened. The movie is ambiguous about blame, but generally favors Zuckerman.

As the story unfolds, we see immature college antics, obsessions with sex, alcohol, getting into good social clubs, and pretentious displays of intellectual cleverness. Among these stereotypes, no one takes school seriously. The dialog is witty-smart-ass-intellectual, salted with plenty of authentic technical mumbo jumbo. Everyone speaks in zingers, so characters never say anything serious or sincere (Garfield’s character, Zuckerman’s roommate, is an exception).

There is no attempt to understand the meaning of Facebook or the motivation of people who use it, or how it has affected modern communication. The movie is essentially a bio-pic of one monumentally egocentric jerk (Zuckerman) who happened to get monumentally lucky, but there is no insight into who he is. What makes the film work is our knowledge and awe of the Facebook phenom and our fascination with it. If the movie were about the development of an industrial pump company, it would be a flop. We bring our own interest so the movie doesn’t have to generate any.

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