October 01, 2010

The Social Network

Perhaps the timing of the movie of how Facebook came into existence is itself a statement about how fast things move today: It's remarkable that only seven years after its inception, Facebook and its founder are the subject of a movie. As Mark Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg accentuates the characteristics that the public has picked up on through various media about the computer-whiz-kid-billionaire, namely the social awkwardness (ironic for a guy responsible for creating a social networking site, and yet, not so) and the abrasive cockiness that alienates him from every social circle he idolizes. It is this alienation, this supreme idolatry, that motivates Zuckerberg, we're led to believe.

Eisenberg as an actor is one who disarms you: he's scrawny and geeky but also likable and he has a fresh face, and good comic timing. We were rooting for him in The Squid and the Whale even when he plagiarized that Pink Floyd song, and we wanted him to survive the frenetic madness of Zombieland. Here, however, his likability disintegrates. It seems all too obvious that he (as Zuckerberg) means what he says exactly how he says it: he's not a victim of bad social skills, he just doesn't make the effort to follow the same rules as the world he lives in. (One character puts it best: "You're not an asshole. You're just trying so hard to be one.") He's a Harvard student who has the intelligence but not the charm that so often goes hand in hand with the world of good breeding and old money and suits and ties. (Rather than the jeans-and-hoody apparel Mark dons throughout the movie; from the classroom to the corporate headquarters, he has no airs about dressing toward a certain perception.)

The supporting cast is headed by Andrew Garfield, as Mark's only true friend and business partner, Eduardo Saverin. Eduardo isn't willing to take the risks that Mark is, and his cautious lip gets him in the end, but ultimately it's Eduardo we identify with: he's the one we care about, while Mark is left holding the bloody knife. Justin Timberlake plays on the sleaziness of his own persona as Sean Parker, the founder of Napster (in real life his name is Shawn Fanning), who oozes with the kind of seedy, shameless, suaveness Mark wants. When Sean enters the story, he tears them apart, but he makes Facebook stronger. Good business and bad friendship go hand in hand. Armie Hammer and Josh Pence play twin brothers (both Harvard students) who file a lawsuit against Mark for allegedly stealing Facebook from them.

As a movie, The Social Network captures both the condescending upper-crustiness of ivy league culture and the sexy, glittering allure of fame and fortune. If you want the former, we're told, you can finish your degree at Harvard and participate in exclusive final clubs and do crew and get a job in N.Y.C. The sexy glittery stuff, however, is L.A.'s department. Indeed, The Social Network captures the fascinating rift between these two cultural centers, places of such stylized, unyielding self-importance that they are gulfs apart from each other in the ways and means of achieving it.

 One of the best things director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin do is limit the exposition. If you need to know who Mark Zuckerberg is and what Facebook is, you certainly don't need to watch The Social Network. Rather than spoonfeed the audience such details (one of the benefits of filming this so promptly), the makers go back and forth between the execution and the arbitration. We see the details unfold, and we see the rift that has occurred at virtually the same time. The storytelling power isn't in finding out what will happen so much as finding out how it does. The opening scene between Eisenberg and the girl he wants, the girl who in effect sets the events into motion for him, allows us to instantly dislike his character, so there's not really a question of reverberating loyalty. We're in it for Eduardo, even though he should have seen things as they were. His niceness--his blindness--gets in the way.

The movie isn't mean--it's pretty objective. Eisenberg may not be likable, but you don't really feel yourself hating him, either. He's like Ebenezer Scrooge in a way--you feel sorry for him after you see the events of his life, many of which unfolded the way they did because of his greed. And yet, he gets the gold in the end. This is the fairy tale where they didn't all live happily ever but they didn't care because they had enough money to fill in the unhappiness.

With Rashida Jones, Joseph Mazzello, Rooney Mara, and John Getz. Adapted from the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. 120 min. ½

No comments: