Friday, September 30, 2011

Movie Review: "The Social Network" by David Pretty

 Hey!  A hearty electronic "Poke!" out to all of my "Friends"!

For the purpose of full disclosure, the first time I reviewed this movie it was through Flixter on Facebook. But, since I wanted it to be read by more than one person, it was an undeniably superior alternative to, say, scribbling it down in my completely anonymous movie review journal.

Before I go any further, here's a video attachment to go along with my status post:

The Social Network tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg (Zombieland's Jesse Eisenberg), a socially inept but brilliantly accomplished computer genius attending Harvard University. After a nasty break up with his girlfriend, an inebriated Mark publicly calls her out on his blog and then hacks into the Harvard's residence hall's social websites to create a crass "hotness" rating system for the female students.

Although he's put on academic probation for the stunt, his proficiency catches the collective eye of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and body double Josh Pence), a pair of well-to-do identical twins on Harvard's prestigious rowing team. They tell Mark about their embryonic concept for a social network site that they believe will eclipse the popularity of MySpace and Friendster.

This seems to spark Mark's creative juices and, after securing financial backing from his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), he vanishes from public, only to re-emerge a few weeks later with a build for his own iteration of the idea, which he's dubbed "thefacebook". When it goes live across campus it sparks a burgeoning phenomenon as well as a tentative campaign by the Winklevoss twins to prove that their concept was pilfered.

A rift eventually develops between Mark and Eduardo when the latter is accepted into an exclusive fraternity, begins tub-thumping to monetize "thefacebook" and then butts heads with Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who conveniently starts sniffing around just before the site goes viral. When Sean tempts Jesse to go out to California with him, Eduardo's role in the genesis of Facebook begins to diminish.

And here lies the inherent irony of the story: a socially awkward wunderkind gets obscenely wealthy creating a social media site which ends up alienating one of his few legitimate friends.  Director David Fincher, responsible for some of the greatest films of the past twenty years, shows us just how savvy he is in addressing the zeitgeist of pop culture.  After all, in today's technology-soaked age, it's unlikely billionaires like Zuckerberg who prove that the best possible opportunities in today's world are those that you make for yourself. 

Fincher does a great job creating an energetic, visually varied film out of a story which might have degenerated into endless shots of people staring at a computer screen. Particular credit for the film's success goes to screenwriter Alan Sorkin who's crackling dialogue expertly sculpts the characters into three-dimensional entities.  For example, Mark's dialogue is rapid-fire and disjointed, Sean's lines are rife with snake-oil and Eduardo's speech is level-headed and practical.

One of the most amazing scenes is actually the very first one to kick off the film.  The verbal fencing between Mark and his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) is so fast, dense and labyrinthine that it practically grabs you by the lapels, pulls you close and forces you to be engaged in the balance of the story.

The principal actors really run with the A-list material.  Jesse Eisenberg brings Zuckerberg to life as a rapid fire smart-alec who's concept of friendship seems to be based on how useful people can be to him.  Having said that, the deposition scenes which see him duck and weave between two separate lawsuits, seems to take a noticeable toll on him despite his bravado.

Justin Timberlake strikes the perfect balance between brash confidence and Svengali smarm as Sean Parker. Andrew Garfield represents the heart of the picture and watching him slowly get shut out of Mark's life is appropriately difficult to endure. Armie Hammer and Josh Pence are also great pulling double duty as stereotypical Ivy League templates who are paralyzed by inaction for half the film just because someone had the temerity to deny them what they wanted.

The denouement of the film is brilliant. Mark has been beat up pretty badly during the deposition but he's had a few earnest conversations with Marylin Delpy (Rashida Jones) an attractive, no-nonsense junior lawyer. Both seem to reach him somewhat and the film's final sequence has Mark sending his ex-girlfriend Erica a friend request on Facebook. He then proceeds to refresh the screen over and over again, desperate for a reply and some sort of validation as a human being.

The Social Network is a powerful modern testimonial about how technology is a poor substitute for traditional human relationships. Indeed, Mark's success is almost a sign of the times. After all, he became obscenely wealthy due to his skills as a programmer not as a humanitarian. He found a way to exploit our growing disconnect between our friends and he did it with barely a smile.

         Tilt: up.

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