I remember when I first set up my Facebook account. The site was still pretty new. It was before the newsfeed, before the “like” button, and before site creator Mark Zuckerberg was under pretty continual scrutiny for privacy and property debates. The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, follows the story of Zuckerberg from his days at Harvard creating the Facebook through the ensuing lawsuits over ownership of the ever-growing social networking site.
The film opens in the fall of 2003 when, following a bad breakup with his girlfriend, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) went home to his dorm, had several beers, blogged, and created Facemash, a site on which students could compare and vote on the hotness of pairs of undergraduate women. In order to create the site, he had to hack into the house facebooks of every dorm on Harvard’s campus. Within hours, the site went viral, registering tens of thousands of hits, and crashing Harvard’s server. The feat brought Zuckerberg to the attention not only of the Harvard disciplinary board, but also of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, with stand-in Josh Pence), who wanted him to write code for their new dating site geared for the Harvard community. Believing that they were onto the next big thing, the Winklevoss twins are outraged when, after months of waiting for code and being blown off by Zuckerberg, they read about the launch of Zuckerberg’s site, the Facebook, in the Harvard paper. Convinced that Zuckerberg stole their idea, they eventually take him to court. Meanwhile, snarky, difficult, but also brilliant Zuckerberg continues to work on expanding the site, with the backing of best friend and entrepreneur Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and manic Napster co-founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). As his legal problems grow along with the site and his relationships deteriorate, Zuckerberg faces problems that coding genius and sarcastic comments won’t help him with.
The Social Network somehow takes subject matter that isn’t actually super-interesting and makes it compelling, intense, and even suspenseful at times. While following the legal battles of computer whizzes and privileged Harvard students, the film takes enough twists to be interesting and includes enough moments dripping in awkwardness to keep the story tense. Plus, the dialogue is fast-paced and bitingly funny.
Holding the fabulous writing together, the movie’s cast does an outstanding job of portraying the growth of the characters from awkward college students to overwhelmed billionaires at the helm of a global networking site. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Zuckerberg is amazing. His deadpan delivery highlights the humor of the script. He manages to make Zuckerberg seem like a conceited jerk, but sympathetic at the same time. Andrew Garfield also delivers a memorable performance. As Zuckerberg’s best friend who gets duped out of his fair share of the enterprise, Garfield convincingly conveys a deep insecurity beneath a layer of trying very hard to play the cool professional.
The pacing of the film starts out zipping along through Zuckerberg’s buzzed highjinks and intense coding sessions creating Facebook. The story bounces back and forth between the legal cases and the recounting of what happened over the course of creating and then fighting over Facebook. In the middle, however, the film really starts to drag. Although the feeling sort of works with how the characters themselves are feeling, I found myself missing the quippier first act. Then, when the story finally comes to an end, it feels sudden and rushed, even though the last scene itself is beautiful.
So for great writing, brilliant performances, and rich art direction, dragged down a bit by pacing, I rate The Social Network 4/5 stars.
The Social Network runs 120 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language.
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