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October 12, 2010

4

Review: The Social Network

Posted by on Oct 12, 2010

In May of 2005, I had just graduated from high school.  A friend of mine was visiting from out of town, and while I was messing around on the internet one day, he said, “Hey, have you signed up for Facebook yet?”  Never having heard of it, I asked what it was.  He signed in and showed me what it was all about.  I was delighted to learn that my school was one of only 100 or so that had access to the service at the time, so I signed up with my shiny new college e-mail address and began customizing everything. Of course back then, there were really only profiles, profile pictures, and walls.  Little did I realize what a social phenomenon (and almost necessity) Facebook would become over the next five years.

I also didn’t know it at the time, but Facebook had already been around for over a year by the time I was first introduced to it, and it is that year with which The Social Network concerns itself.  The new film from director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin tells the story of the inception and rise of Facebook, looking at the lives of founders and best friends Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin.  The story is well crafted, the film is well shot, and the acting is superb. Read on to find out why The Social Network is all over your news feed.

The jerk and his protege.

The film opens at Harvard University in the fall of 2003, when Zuckerberg was a sophomore computer science major.  The story starts with Zuckerberg spending his nights drinking and writing the code for facemash.com, a site designed to compare girls at Harvard according to how hot they are.  Thus begins the saga of Facebook’s creation.  The focus of the film is not just with Zuckerberg, but also with his co-founder and original CFO, Eduardo Saverin.  As the narrative develops, we learn that while the two started off as the best of friends, runaway success often has a way of bringing out the worst in people.  This sets the stage for a compelling drama jumping back and forth between a deposition room and the exciting and rapidly evolving world of internet startups.

The role of Mark Zuckerberg is played by Jessie Eisenberg, who you may have seen in such films as Zombieland, Adventureland (weird “land” trend there), and The Squid and the Whale.  While I always enjoy Eisenberg’s performances, I often find that he plays the same character in his films (one of the many ways he usually reminds me of Michael Cera).  That was not the case in this movie.  He was a pleasure to watch on screen, and while the portrayal of Zuckerberg may have been overly critical, he delivered it brilliantly and, for the first time in any of his performances, I was able to separate the character from the actor.  He truly stepped into his role and became the person he was playing.

While Eisenberg stepping up to the plate got me excited, that is nothing compared to the sheer joy that I experienced watching Andrew Garfield take on Zuck’s friend and partner Eduardo.  I would argue that the movie actually follows the story of Eduardo more than it does that of Zuckerberg, and his is definitely the character I found myself sympathizing with the most.  His emotions rang true at every turn and he displayed a far wider emotional range than any other character.  I found myself rooting for him in all his moments of crisis.  His amazing successes and devastating defeats felt like my own, and I identified with him emotionally more than I did any other character in the film.  As a side note, Andrew Garfield has also been cast as Peter Parker in the upcoming reboot of the Spider Man movie franchise, and since this was the first time I have been able to see him in action, I am extremely excited about the future for Spidey.

I would also be remiss if I forgot to mention Justin Timberlake’s performance as Shawn Parker, founder of Napster and key player in the Facebook saga.  Now I love Justin Timberlake a lot, and I think the other guys on the site will back me up on his awesomeness.  I’ve always been impressed by his acting, and this film is no exception.  It is pretty widely recognized that Parker is a real-life asshole with a short fuse and a big mouth, and my man JT captures this perfectly.  He is the embodiment of the entitled arrogance that the younger players of Silicon Valley are accused of these days, and it is a blast to watch. He’s not a likable asshole, but he’s an asshole I really liked to watch at work.

Andrew Garfield really stepped into his role as Eduardo Saverin. Bring on Spiderman!

When I first heard they were making “a Facebook movie,” I don’t think I was alone in my skepticism.  Obviously Facebook is one of the hottest social and financial properties on the globe, so the idea that they were making a marketing and promotional movie seemed ridiculous, and I had absolutely no interest (Of course I didn’t know at the time that this was the exact opposite of a promotional movie for Facebook).  The only thing that gave me hope at the time was that Aaron Sorkin was set to write the screenplay.  Now I don’t know how many of you have seen any of Aaron Sorkin’s previous work, but it is all amazing.  I’ve been a fan of his ever since I first saw The West Wing in the late 90’s, so I had very high expectations going into The Social Network, and I was not disappointed by his most recent venture.  The dialogue is very well written, with both the rapid-fire pace and the emotional gut punches that are so characteristic of Sorkin.  The structure of the narrative is also reminiscent of many episodes of the West Wing, with very effective transitions between the development of Facebook and the drama of a deposition concerning the ownership of the site.  The story jumps back and forth and often manages to straddle the line for a time, putting us in both worlds at once.

While we are talking about the writing, let’s make one thing very clear.  This is not the full story of the rise of Facebook, nor is everything that happens in this film completely true.  The book this movie is based on, The Accidental Billionaires, was heavily influenced by Eduardo Saverin, who was one of the main sources for the story.  Naturally this is going to slant the narrative to be more sympathetic to him and his situation.  With that story as a launch pad, Sorkin took the rough story and turned it into a good movie.  When interviewed for a New York Magazine article, Sorkin recalled, “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.”  He would go on to ask, “What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?”  Clearly, he decided that we couldn’t handle the truth, and I’m glad for it.  The truth is probably much more boring, and probably much less worth my $12 ticket price.

Go see this movie.  Then write about it on Twitter.

  • Anonymous

    But be forewarned: after seeing this movie, you will have an almost uncontrollable urge to tell anyone you meet that goes/went to BU that they don’t have to study.

    • I tell them that anyway

  • Great review of a great movie. The cinematography gave the perfect “college campus” feel to the movie, too. Justin Timberlake pleasantly surprised me with his acting, and really made me hate him, while still being sucked in just a little by his character’s charisma.

  • Ian Fahey

    That picture of Timby and Eisenberg continues my disbelief that Timberlake didn’t play Zuckerberg in this movie. I can’t wait to see the movie and I have no intention of spending it grumbling about casting. I’m just amazed at how much Timberlake, dressed up for HIS character, looks like the real-life counterpart of Eisenberg’s character.

    And can’t wait to see Spider-Man. I want the Tobey McGuire Peter Parker to fade away. Maybe when Garfield’s characters cry, they won’t look like a Looney Tunes character that just got punched in the face.