2006-2010 Movie Reviews

The Social Network

In case you’ve been in a cave for the last six months, the Social Network is a somewhat fictionalized account of the early days of Facebook, as told in the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. The film characterizes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a great innovator who, despite a nagging proclivity toward egotism and elitism (both of which became cornerstones of Facebook’s staggered rollout model), created a platform that has changed many people’s lives.

He also may have stolen parts of his idea from some hunky upperclassmen at Harvard before later cutting out his original business partner after Facebook became successful.

Why, you may be wondering to yourselves, did Zuckerberg create Facebook at all? Well, faithful readers, I ask you to consider why you yourself would create a social networking site like Facebook. To be cool? For a girl? To change the world? Zuckerberg did it for all three—or that’s what the film would have you believe, at least.

The story unfolds through flashbacks drawn by testimonies given during two separate, yet somewhat related legal proceedings that Zuckerberg would later have to endure after Facebook became wildly successful. This framing device serves the film well, as we all know that although Mark may lose the court cases, he is ultimately triumphant. Further, the use of flashbacks allows the filmmakers to collapse the passage of several months into a few moments, whereas if the film was told in a strictly linear fashion, it may not have retained the quick pacing throughout. Being first (and by extension, quickness to act) is a crucial theme of the film, and editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall underscore that marvelously.

Take, for instance, the Facemash sequence where a recently-dumped Mark retires to his dorm room to drunkenly create a website that allows visitors to rank one girl against another. A motormouth Zuckerberg spews codespeak while a montage sequence shows him coding the site, hacking into Harvard’s dormitory databases to retrieve the girls’ headshots, blogging angrily about the breakup with his girlfriend, and swilling a beer all at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking. The cuts are quick and fast, leaving the viewer just a moment to catch his breath.

As I mentioned, the dialogue in the Social Network comes fast and furious, and not just from Mark Zuckerberg. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s stellar script gives almost every character a rapier wit and the ability to speak a hundred words a minute. This too matches well with the notion that the film explores race to be the first one with the next big idea. These characters act nearly as quickly as they talk. That said, the speedy repartee was distracting at certain points, most significantly in the opening scene where Mark trades barbs with his girlfriend (and possible impetus of Facebook?) at a lightning pace.

The film is not without its faults, however. With the exception of Erica Albright (played by Rooney Mara), the girl who rightfully jilts Mark at the beginning of the film, and Marylin Delpy, one of the lawyers present at the deposition, the rest of the women in the film are characterized negatively—if they’re characterized at all. Consider Eduardo Saverin’s girlfriend Christy Lee (played by Brenda Song), for instance. Saverin and Zuckerberg first call her a “groupie,” and later she is shown to be completely insane after Saverin returns from a trip to California to visit Mark. All the other women shown on screen are in various states of undress or intoxication. Speaking of Delpy, she acts as a stand-in for the audience as she learns about all of Mark’s questionable actions for the first time, just like us. Then, at the end of the film, she tells Mark what she thinks (and Sorkin’s idea of what we should think) about Mark’s actions. It’s the film’s one moment of heavy-handedness, but then again, it’s hard not to moralize without a heavy hand.

After seeing the countless ads both online and on television heralding it as “the film for our generation,” I went to see the Social Network last week, and I was not disappointed—but the film does not warrant as lofty exultation as the critics cited in the commercials have given it. To be sure, the Social Network is a good film—a great one, even—but just because a film concerns something as profoundly reaching as Facebook doesn’t make the film itself just as profound. That said, the Social Network, like Mark Zuckerberg and like Facebook itself, is chock full of thought-provoking ideas and attitudes.