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"THE SOCIAL NETWORK"
(2010) (Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: As two separate legal depositions take place against the founder of Facebook, the creation and growth of the social media site is profiled in flashback.
PLOT:
It's 2003 and Mark Zuckerberg (JESSE EISENBERG) is so obsessed with being invited to join one of Harvard's prestigious and elite clubs that he doesn't realize he's offended his girlfriend, Erica (ROONEY MARA). Then again, while a brilliant student, he isn't the most socially adroit person. Thus, when Erica dumps him, he drunkenly puts her down in his online blog and then impulsively creates a site where anyone can rate Harvard women based on their looks.

That spreads like viral wildfire and gets him in trouble for hacking into the school's computer system. It also draws the attention of twins Cameron Winklevoss (ARMIE HAMMER) and Tyler Winklevoss (ARMIE HAMMER) who, along with elite Harvard club member Divya Narendra (MAX MINGHELLA), want to hire Mark to program a Harvard dating website they've thought up.

Seeing the potential in that, Mark creates his own version that goes above and beyond just dating, and thus "The Facebook" social media site is formed, with financial backing from his friend and fellow student, Eduardo Saverin (ANDREW GARFIELD). That quickly becomes popular and then spreads to other Ivy League schools and beyond, not only drawing the interest of groupies such as Christy Ling (BRENDA SONG), but also Sean Parker (JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE), the creator of the file sharing network service Napster. He sees even greater potential in the site that he says should just be called Facebook, but Eduardo isn't happy to see his role in the quickly growing company being pushed aside.

With legal depositions getting underway regarding the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo separately suing Mark respectively for allegedly stealing their idea and wrongfully shortchanging his involvement, we watch in flashback as the social media site is created and then grows into the behemoth it's become today.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
I'm always amazed how Hollywood editors and/or studio marketing departments can create exciting trailers and TV commercials out of bad films, a point not lost on amateurs out there on the Internet who reedit their own, often mixing clips from different films into one appetizing tease for a movie that will never exist.

On the flip side, it astonishes me that occasionally you'll have a really good and sometimes exceptional film where the promo materials don't appeal at all to average moviegoers. Just recently, some friends who are big movie buffs said they had no intention of seeing "The Social Network" due to the commercials and trailers they had seen. Granted, some of that stemmed from them not being Facebook users and thus not having much inherent interest in a movie about the formation of that site, service and company.

But the biggest issue, of which I happen to wholeheartedly agree, is that the marketing material makes it look as appealing as reading everyone's posts about Farmville, Mafia Wars and other such online games -- found on the popular social media site -- if you don't happen to be addicted to them. All of which is a shame since it's a terrific film that, so far, is one of the best of 2010. If the film tanks at the box office, there will be nothing to blame but those poorly constructed and boring trailers and commercials.

Granted, creating compelling marketing for a film that relies so heavily on brilliant writing isn't the easiest thing to do. After all, a good script builds on the viewer, with each brilliant line of dialogue adding up with the rest to create a satisfying whole. Even so, a marketing blurb such as "From Aaron Sorkin, writer of "The West Wing" and "The American President" would get that point across fairly easily. And it wouldn't hurt to add "And from the director of "Se7en," "Fight Club" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

That director, of course, is David Fincher and he and Sorkin have joined forces to create a compelling, funny and fully engaging look at the origins of Facebook and its creator, Mark Zuckerberg. He's a computer programmer who went from a college nobody to the youngest billionaire on record in little more than what seems like a nanosecond of Internet history.

That might not sound like terribly interesting material for non-programmers (whereas computer geeks likely view Zuckerberg as something of a great role model) or those who don't really care about the man behind the curtain as long as they can post new updates to their Facebook wall and read the same from their friends. Smartly, the filmmakers -- working from Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires" -- frame that development with not one but two active depositions regarding pending suits filed by different parties who allege Zuckerberg wronged them in some way regarding the social networking site.

It's a bit confusing at first as Fincher cuts between those and the flashbacks, resulting in the depositions appearing as just one with three plaintiffs. But that eventually works itself out and becomes clearer as we watch the contrast of the defiant Zuckerberg in those legal proceedings with his drive to create and expand his new service (initially called "The Facebook" and created, in an offhand way, as a means of getting back at his girlfriend who's dumped him for lacking a social and personality filter).

Fueled by Sorkin's brilliant dialogue, lead star Jesse Eisenberg takes the character and runs with it, creating a somewhat to nearly always unlikable but constantly interesting character. There's been talk that the portrayal isn't completely accurate for the real man (with the same being said about certain facts about what really happened), but as a character in a movie, it's golden stuff. It's also a testament to the actor and filmmakers' skills that we become mesmerized by his character, a brilliant kid who's annoyed by grievances and anything that gets in the way of what he's truly driven to do.

Supporting performances are top-notch across the board, from Andrew Garfield as his friend and company CFO to Armie Hammer playing both parts of a set of twins (a seamless special effect) to Justin Timberlake as the former creator of Napster who sees opportunity in this new social media world. With Sorkin's dialogue rattling out like machine gun spray, they can do no wrong with their parts, and I wouldn't be surprised to see award nominations for many of the involved performers (which also holds true for the screenwriter and director).

While the film works on a superficial level of sheer enjoyment of just taking in all that works so well, it also succeeds on an underlying thematic level. Namely, that a person who's barely functional in interpersonal social matters who ironically manages to create the biggest social media site on the Internet (but where those who interact don't do so face-to-face), and thus becomes a popular sensation, but then manages to ruin his social connections with those who helped him get there.

Unlike other real and fictional characters who do the climb for money and/or fame, Zuckerberg (at least as portrayed here) initially isn't after those. Instead, he just pursues what obsessively drives him, but the end result is the same in that his gains end up being his downfall (albeit not in terms of financial status or Internet importance and influence).

If there's one small flaw to the film, it's that it feels like it suddenly concludes and without any real resolution. Yet, considering that Facebook is still evolving (like fashion, as stated by the protagonist), it's not troubling. That's unlike the ads that I hope don't keep viewers away from seeing this terrific and completely engaging film. "The Social Network" rates an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed September 23, 2010 / Posted October 1, 2010


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