Having been dumped, status-obsessed genius Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) creates a college website which ranks how attractive girls are. When it proves popular, he takes an idea from privileged campus jocks the Winklevoss twins (Hammer, Pence) and morphs it into Facebook with his only friend, Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) as partner. As the site’s popularity is about to sky-rocket, badboy Napster creator Sean Parker (Timberlake) worms his way in and nudges Eduardo out, leading Zuckerberg to eventually face two lawsuits over ownership…
A movie about the creation of a website shouldn’t be this engrossing. It really shouldn’t. But then Facebook (or The Facebook as it was originally called) isn’t merely a website – it’s a social experience. An obsession. A stalker’s dream. And, as you well know, the ultimate time-wasting tool. As a film subject, it’s an unusual choice for David Fincher (who’s known for far grittier fare), but yet his collaboration with celebrated writer Aaron Sorkin (whose scripts made the West Wing so morish) results in a dazzling movie which will have both critics and the masses writing positively on their walls.
Importantly, for those sceptical that two hours of computer programming sounds like a one-way ticket to snooze-ville, The Social Network isn’t just about the creation of a website. Yes, we see nerds tapping away at keyboards. Yes, we follow how the site snowballed from a simple idea into a social phenomenon of incalculable value. But ultimately, it’s a smart and talky character drama ‘about’ friendship, loyalty, jealousy, betrayal and (pun semi-intended) status.
It’s also something of a departure for Fincher. Aside from the hyper-stylised rowing race which stands out, there’s surprisingly little of the director’s usual visual flair. Plus, for the man who brought us the edgy, stabby likes of Se7en and Fight Club, trust-fund kids suing each other over intellectual property (as in, who really created Facebook) seems lightweight by comparison. But in spite of the restrained direction and change of sociopathic pace, his perfectionist fingerprints are evident in every painstakingly-crafted frame. Shot mostly on location and boasting an astonishing attention to detail, Fincher ensures the drama is as charged as anything in his back catalogue – but yet his trusty dedication to realism never wavers. See those course books and timetables lying around? Yeah, they’re all real.
Arguably though, it’s as much Aaron Sorkin’s movie as it is Fincher’s. Right from the attention-grabbing, pre-credits bar opening (where Zuckerberg is dumped by Rooney Mara’s Erica), this is unmistakably his work. Pinging rapidly back-and-forth, it’s a breathtaking verbal joust full of quirky wordplay and quick-witted zingers (“It’s exhausting. Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster!”). Happily, this snappy banter continues throughout. Sorkin gifts everyone great lines and clever dialogue (see Eisenberg’s response to being asked about giving his full attention), whilst you also sense that Fincher wisely reigned in the sentimental outlook that the West Wing man often veers into. As always with his writing, the sheer smartness will zip over the heads of many audience members, but the intelligent will lap it up. Plus, after the underwhelming Charlie Wilson’s War and quickly-cancelled Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, it’s a staggering return to form.
So how much of it is true? Well, whilst there’s bound to be a fair bit of dramatic licence involved, much fact is used to render a reasonable account of how Facebook was actually created. Playing out mostly in 2003-2004 where the site began to take shape, we occasionally flashback (or forward?) to the ‘present’ of 2008 where Mark is taking part in two depositions for ownership. If this sounds overly confusing, don’t worry, it’s not. A tight script and some precision editing ensures the duel timelines are easier to comprehend than one of your friend’s text-abbreviated posts.
Of course, FB head-honcho Mark Zuckerberg has openly contended the sympathetic slant towards co-creator Eduardo Saverin. Seen that coming. But since the former refused to participate and the latter was the main collaborator for the novel the movie is based on (Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires) it’s hardly surprising. Truth aside, it’s the dynamic between these two that provides our emotional core, with certain exchanges between them (like Eduardo’s stating “I was your only friend” or realising he’s just been screwed out of the company) proving surprisingly devastating.
It helps that Andrew Garfield is hugely likeable as the grounded one our sympathies are drawn towards. Outstanding in everything he’s done thus far, Garfield gives another effortlessly-brilliant showing to confirm that he’s definitely going places. Watch this space. Interestingly (and this is very interesting), fellow up-and-comer Armie Hammer plays both Winklevoss twins. Yes, both of them. Well, sort of. With Josh Pence thanklessly providing the other body, Hammer’s face is seamlessly grafted onto this torso so convincingly that you’d never know otherwise. So instead of one strong, scene-nabbing performance from the deep-voiced Hammer, we get two.
As for Jesse Eisenberg, he’s just flawless as the world’s youngest billionaire. Accurately-portrayed or not, this Zuckerberg is an endlessly-fascinating contradiction; in charge of the biggest social network on the planet, yet socially awkward. Hosting the sort of party he always wanted to go to, but still feeling left out regardless. Indeed, from the minute we see him retreating to campus after being dumped, to his final ‘confession’ to Rashida Jones’ junior lawyer, there’s always a poignant undercurrent of sadness and loneliness to him (aided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ ethereal piano). His journey might end on a simple, understated moment, but it’s an impossibly-perfect, bitersweet full-stop nonetheless.
Importantly, he’s not really the villain of the piece, and certainly not demonised by Fincher, Sorkin or Eisenberg. That would be too lazy. Instead, he’s realised like many introverted clever-clogs are; as an impatient and highly-functioning individual who gets frustrated being ahead of the curve. Many will come away thinking he’s an “asshole”, but if you look closely he just calls things as they really are. Bluntly, but as they really are. Zero bullshit.
No, the real ‘villain’ here is Justin Timberlake’s bad influence Sean Parker (who, ironically, is the popular chick-magnet). Playing him as a swaggering-yet-paranoid playboy, Timberlake doesn’t just own Mark with his seductive charm – he owns the role. And us. If you needed further confirmation that JT isn’t just some pop star pretending to be an actor, this is it.
Brilliantly written, brilliantly executed and brilliantly acted, Fincher and Sorkin should team up more often. Like.