Movie Review 15: The Social Network

John Keating: Language was developed for one endeavor, and that is - Mr. Anderson? Come on, are you a man or an amoeba?
John Keating: Mr. Perry?
Neil: To communicate.
John Keating: No! To woo women
That classic exchange from Dead Poets Society is the key theme that drives the story of “The Social Network” and likely the creation of Facebook in the real world, as well.social network poster
The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin, and based on the book, The Accidental Billionaires purports to be the story behind Facebook.  While the general content may be true, there are plenty of fictionalized accounts in the movie. Sorkin did not approach the subject matter and a journalist, but as a story teller.  And as a story teller, he did a great job.

When I first heard there was going to be a Facebook movie, I was skeptical.  When I saw the previews I thought, “Huh.  This might not suck.”  Now that I’ve seen it, I can honestly say this a surprisingly good movie.

The movie uses two legal depositions as the framework for telling the story of how Mark Zuckerberg and his friends at Harvard created Facebook. It seems an odd choice to use that framework since “website authoring” and “legal deposition” aren’t typically buzzwords that bring people into the theater. 

The film opens as Erica Albright, Mark Zuckerberg’s (fictional) girlfriend breaks up with him in a restaurant.  He goes back to his Harvard dorm room, blogs nastily about her while drunk (seriously, folks, BWI, or blogging while impaired, is rarely a good idea (come to think of it, BWI, or Baltimore Washington International airport is also rarely a good idea)), and then hacks several Harvard networks to create a website that ranks women based on attractiveness.  He crashes the network, and we are off to the races.

social network
The reason the subject matter works as a movie is because the fact that we’re talking about Facebook is almost incidental.  The story is about friendship, betrayal, naiveté, revenge, pettiness, and honor.  The socially inept and obsessively driven Zuckerberg moves forward with his ideas and get caught up folks who are simultaneously exactly the right people and wrong people to be involved with.

In many respects, the story is about a bunch of kids who don’t have the wisdom or experience to realize they are in over their heads.

Jesse Eisenberg does a fantastic job as Mark Zuckerberg, and is all about the contrast.  He shows a great balance of awkwardness and smarminess. You’re never sure if his Zuckerberg needs a hug or a smack across the face.

Andrew Garfield does a good job playing Eduardo Saverin, though he seems to lack depth or definition at times.  Sorkin doesn’t flesh out the character or the relationship with Zuckerberg well enough. Saverin is supposed to be Zuckerberg’s best friend, but why?  Sorkin doesn’t do enough to establish that relationship, and Zuckerberg and Saverin are different enough, that we can’t just assume the friendship is natural.

Justin Timberlake plays a larger than life Sean Parker, the over the top Napster and Plaxo founder, who splits Zuckerberg and Saverin apart.  The Zuckerberg and Parker characters look an awful lot alike, which severs the story in interesting ways.  It shows Zuckerberg the person he can potentially be if things go right.  And it shows Parker the person he would like to be again.

The most interesting thing I learned about Facebook from this movie was that Sean Parker had such a role with the company.

At times, Timberlake’s portrayal is distracting.  His character reminded me less of the young genius who changed the record business for ever, and more of Neal Patrick Harris’s Barney from “How I Met Your Mother.”

Brenda Song, known to many as the Disney Channel’s London Tipton from “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” plays a very different character here.  As fellow Harvard Student Christy Ling, she connects Zuckerberg with Parker.  She appears several more times in the story, but I’m not sure why.  It’s as though Sorkin just wanted to add love interest but her presence doesn't really add much to plot or flesh out the characterizations of Zuckerberg or Saverin much.

Armie Hammer does a great job playing twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.  I had not idea it was one actor playing both of them until I read about it on the movie’s website.  The characters felt different.  In the story, they are identical twins. But as I watched the movie, I thought they didn’t look that much alike.  In fact they were more a like than twins because it turns out they were the same actor.

Characterization, though, is not Sorkin’s strong point.  He wrote them and their business partner Divya Narendra (played by Max Minghella) as nothing more than spoiled, entitled rich kids who’ve never had to earn anything.  They were the “dumb jocks” of the movie, and that seems too simple. 

They’re in the story because they founded an early Facebook competitor called ConnectU and claim they hired Zuckerberg to code it for them.  They sue him, claiming he stole their idea and turned it into Facebook.
It’s possible Sorkin’s sketch of them is accurate, but I doubt it.  It was too flat and simple.  Whereas other aspects of the film and story were more nuanced, this thread was too black and white.

Despite those concerns, this is still an excellent movie.  Sorkin’s story telling is compelling. The cinematography is also excellent.  The crew race in England is beautifully shot. The pacing is crisp.
I don’t know how much it reflects the reality of the story of Facebook; doubtless there is plenty of fictional content.  It is, after all, a story and not a documentary.

It exceeded all my expectations, though, and is definitely worth seeing.

For more of my movie reviews, click here.

Here is the movie trailer:


Brian Kunath said...

Saw the movie and agree with your review. Amazing that Sorkin used two fairly well-mannered depositions as the framework to tell the story about somebody writing code. But he pulled it off.

I did find it funny that at least twice in the movie, Zuckerberg had cause to sprint across campus with a head full of ideas for his nascent network. These were some of the more physical parts of the movie: Just running from one building to another. But again, it's a testament to Sorkin's writing that I was captivated for all two hours.

otilius said...

Nice review. I do want to see this movie.