'The Social Network' works well

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2010

"The Social Network"

Columbia Pictures

2 hours, 1 minutes

Though I am rapidly approaching 40, I honestly don't feel old, most of the time. I still have to explain to my father how to hook up his DVD player. I have songs by Ke$ha and Lady Gaga in my iTunes playlist, and I even have a pretty clear understanding of what Twitter is.

But if one thing makes me feel like a dinosaur, it would have to be Facebook. I just can't bring myself to subscribe to the social network. I can't see how I would possibly have time for it, and where does it all end? I have e-mail, an iPhone, a Kindle... I'm already more connected to the world than anyone just 15 years ago could have even imagined possible.

But wouldn't you like to keep up with all your old friends from college and high school? Wouldn't you like to know about their kids and jobs and what they're up to every second of the day?

Honestly? No.

Sure, I wouldn't mind dropping the occasional "hello," but I've got a job and a family and life to keep up with myself that's hard enough to do without trying to keep with everyone else's. With that mindset, you might imagine a whole movie about Facebook wouldn't exactly be my cup of tea. On the contrary -- under the able direction of David Fincher, "The Social Network" is brilliant.

To say the movie is about Facebook is a little bit of a misnomer. It's about Mark Zuckerberg, the introverted genius who changed the very way people interact worldwide from the comfort of his Harvard dorm room. Zuckerberg, as played by Jesse Eisenberg, is not the kind of guy you'd want to spend time with. Brilliant, but completely socially inept, he loses his girlfriend in the first scene by managing to belittle her completely in the span of just a few minutes of conversation.

It's not that Zuckerberg is malicious, just self-absorbed and incredibly insecure. He can't allow anyone to be better than him at anything, because he honestly believes no one is. The break-up leads to a night of furious programming, wherein Mark succeeds in hacking the college's online student registration systems, creating a rudimentary website called "FaceMash," where viewers could rate the relative hotness of any of Harvard's numerous female students.

This breach catches the attention of not only the University, but a pair of entrepreuring twins named Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, amazingly played by the same actor, Armie Hammer. The Winklevi, as Zuckerberg disdainfully refers to them, have an idea for a social networking website in which people, Harvard students specifically, would be able to create individual profiles and, based on acceptance, could allow others to view said profile. Exclusivity was the key, a way to set the site apart from the similar and already established MySpace. Cameron and Tyler ask Mark to partner with them, he doing the programming, they providing the financing for what they envision will be a major money-making endeavor.

Mark, as usual barely able to disguise his disdain for people he imagines are beneath him, instead goes off and creates "The Facebook," with the help of his relatively wealthy, trusting friend, Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield. The site is amazingly popular on campus, and the two begin expanding The Facebook to other colleges and universities. Two campuses, six, a dozen, until they eventually attract the attention of one Sean Parker, the disgraced creator of the music sharing site Napster, currently broke and using his notoriety to bed sorority girls in California. Justin Timberlake, who continues to surprise me with his acting ability, steals the show with his portrayal as Parker, a paranoid fast-talking partyboy who captures Zuckerberg's imagination and helps blast Facebook into the stratosphere.

Unfortunately Eduardo, whose vision is smaller but whose ethics are intact, is left in the dust. What follows is a series of lawsuits over the both the authorship and ownership of one of the most profitable internet ventures of all time.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks from the perspective of the various litigants in deposition. Whether this was Fincher's decision, or a creation of Ben Mezrich, author of "The Accidental Billionaires," upon which "The Social Network" was based, the technique succeeds in stretching the tension and drama on what could have been a fairly dry topic.

Along with the crackling script by "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, "The Social Network" showcases some of the best acting of the year. Eiseneberg, who is in nearly every scene, is great, taking a fairly unlikeable character and completely humanizing him. Timberlake is, as I mentioned, perfectly cast, and Andrew Garfield, all set to take on the role of Peter Parker in the "Spider Man" reboot, plays the wounded pride of Eduardo Saverin to the hilt.

There are two standouts however, one being Armie Hammer as the twins -- a sublime bit of special effects that highlight the best of CG. Hammer not only delivers two fully realized characters, but provides most of the comedy in an otherwise dour story. The other is Rooney Mara, in a fairly small role as Zuckerberg's ex, Erica Albright. Though only in a few scenes, Mara completely encapsulates the outside world's reaction to the brilliant but unbelievably antisocial Zuckerberg. Fincher intends to let Mara stretch some, casting her as the star of the upcoming "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," a choice which bodes well for the success of that film.

When it's all said and done, "The Social Network" is about a lot more than just Facebook. It's about loyalty, greed, hubris, and a complete paradigm shift in the way people interact. David Fincher and Co. give us an amazing and powerful snapshot of both our changing world and timeless human foibles.

It's hard to proclaim in the glow of a recent viewing, but "The Social Network" may well be the best movie I've seen this year.

Grade: A+

"The Social Network" is rated PG-13 for language and sexuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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