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Film review: Don't have to be connected to enjoy 'The Social Network'

September 28, 2010|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Joseph Mazzello in Columbia Pictures' "The Social Network," which opens Friday in theaters.
Columbia Pictures,

"The Social Network" is an excellent movie, and you don't have to know anything about Facebook to enjoy it.

I want to make this point early because I want people to see the film and I don't want anybody to be alienated by the new-technology aspects of the film. The film is above all a rags-to-riches story, and Facebook is simply the product that makes it happen.

The film starts with Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) losing a friend. His girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), is breaking up with him.

In anger, he throws together a misogynistic website where other students can rate the hotness of girls at the university. The website is illegal because he's hacking into unauthorized photo banks and causing the system to crash with the traffic it generates. This is to establish that Mark can throw together a genius idea on a whim, imagine what he can do when he's trying.

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His stunt gets the attention of the well-to-do Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), who allow Mark the privilege of making a similar website for them.

The Winklevosses obviously don't know what they're doing, so Mark decides to create the website for himself. He gets his friend, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), to provide him with startup money in exchange for 30 percent ownership of the site. After several weeks in his rabbit hutch, Mark launches The Facebook, a site with many differences from the Facebook of today.

Eduardo is happy for the site's early success, but is worried that it isn't making money because it has no way of generating revenue. Mark schedules a meeting with whacked-out Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), which isn't really what Eduardo had in mind. Soon Sean is in Mark's head with promises of success beyond his wildest dreams. Mark makes Sean a part of the Facebook company and Eduardo falls to the wayside.

Much of the movie concerns two eventual lawsuits, one from the Winklevosses for "stealing" their idea, one from Eduardo over a shady contract. Sequestered in rooms with his enemies, we get a feel for Mark's nonexistent social skills. He rarely gives a straight answer, instead opting to correct people, put over his own genius, offer smart-aleck remarks and act completely distracted.

It's easy to quip that Mark needs Facebook to make friends because he can't make any in the real world. Specifically, the Zuckerberg of the film is a character that will only be a friend to people who can offer him something in return. While he rarely bothers with blatant contempt, he is willing to disregard his enemies. He treats them like telemarketers - he's annoyed when he absolutely has to deal with them, ready to completely put them out his mind when he doesn't.

The film is written by Aaron Sorkin, whose screenplay supplies the film with rapid-fire dialogue and plenty of verbal intensity. The director is David Fincher, who makes the dialogue sound distinct crisp. There are a few scenes that take place at clubs or parties where there's a lot of background noise, but most scenes sound like they could be taking place isolated cavern, silence only broken by the words of the characters. He also directs a heart-pounding rowing race that will go down as one of the great sports sequences of all time despite featuring an unpopular sport.

"The Social Network" is not a film about computers or social networking. It is not a film where the main character gets rich and we watch as he goes on a spending spree. We don't find out what he does while he's on top of the mountain, or even if he enjoys it. Nor do we get more than a few courtroom scenes and on-screen epilogues pertaining to his fate. Fortunately, the story of "The Social Network" is so compelling that it hardly matters that the film is basically a long first act.

"The Social Network" is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and language. Its runtime is 120 minutes.

Bob Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies department at New York University. He can be contacted at rrg251@nyu.edu .

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