Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
In the wake of TIME’s recent naming of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as “Person of the Year,” now is probably more than ever a perfect time to finally see “The Social Network” if you haven’t already.
The film of course centers around the opportunism and betrayals that led to the making of the billion-dollar enterprise that is now Facebook. Though based on real life, a fictional character by the name of Erica Albright frames the story. Turned off by Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) social/emotional ineptitude during a date, Albright rejects him, which sets into motion the creation of Facebook, laden with questionable actions and motivations on Zuck’s part. Through the course of the film, Zuckerberg wades through two lawsuits: The first for allegedly stealing the Facebook idea (the “Harvard Connection”) from fellow Harvardians, the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer, a feat that still boggles my mind); and the second for driving his best (and only) friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who was Facebook’s CFO, out of the company. You may or may not be familiar with the outcome of either, but let’s just say Zuckerberg gets de-friended many times throughout the movie. (The ending, which returns us to Albright, ties the play on the idea of Facebook “friends” neatly).
One need not be a genius to realize that the characters in the film are exaggerations; viewing YouTube interviews of Zuckerberg yields a more innocuous version of the world’s youngest billionaire. (Not to mention that the film versions are more than just a tad more attractive than their real counterparts). Aaron Sorkin’s script, based on Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction book, “The Accidental Billionaires,” milks the Facebook story for all its worth and splices together reality and fiction into an utterly engaging and entertaining drama. Dramatizations expectedly distort reality, and the film is unrepentant about it. One might perhaps wonder about the omission from the film of Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg’s longtime girlfriend in real life; but of course, her inclusion in the story would have negated an overarching and foundational premise in the film (that of Zuckerberg’s friendlessness) and taken away much of the darkness from the Zuckerberg character. And quite frankly we’d all find the resulting story pretty boring.
But setting aside reality (whatever that is), Sorkin’s script is crisp and witty, without the obnoxiousness of its fast-talking main character. I was initially turned off by the Sorkin banter we are introduced to at the beginning of the film, but things fall into place soon enough, and the film is able to become more than Sorkin’s writing (great writing often has the unintended effect of holding hostage the larger work it is supposed to support; but not here).
Jesse Eisenberg should be noted for his portrayal of the socially inept billionaire computer geek. One would think the character sociopathic were he not infused with some glints of actual feelings, namely guilt; actually, many assume the real Zuckerberg to have Asperger’s, and Eisenberg here seems to be playing that up to good effect. But it is Andrew Garfield (your future Spiderman, and whom I loved in “Boy A,” for which he won a BAFTA) who is the true standout here. You can’t help but feel sympathy for his likable Saverin who, juxtaposed with the ruthless Zuckerberg, brims with humanity.
“The Social Network” is topical, hip (made so in part by Trent Reznor’s very fitting score), and very well constructed. David Fincher has done a great job of meshing Sorkin’s writing with an ideal cast. It’s a fairly sure bet the film will receive a round of Oscars come February.