PG-13, 4 stars
The Social Network deals with the creation of Facebook, but that's not what the movie is about. It's about being dumped by a girl because she thinks you're a creep, and then proving she's right. It's about simmering resentment over not being one of the cool kids, followed by bursts of angry creativity. It's about not being able to really connect with other people, and what happens when you try to build a system that will allow you to connect with people online.
Facebook is the result of all that. It's an invaluable tool for self-promotion, finding old friends, learning what happened to schoolmates, passing information in a timely fashion and seeing who can come up with the best quip. It's also the place to go for endless cocktail party chatter, with who-cares proclamations ("Heading to Taco Bell for a flatbread chicken sandwich") followed by are-you-kidding-me comments (Pat Fogle: "Yum!," Geoff Tatum: "Where's mine?," Marty Glass: "Now you've got me hungry!," ad infinitum).
So Facebook is a social network created by a young man not able to really connect with other people that is frequently used by people with the same problem.
The film is directed David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fight Club, Se7en) with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) based on Ben Mezrich's book, The Accidental Billionaires – The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. ("What a cumbersome title. Was he being paid by the word?" 7 people like this. Sam Smith: "LOL!" Mary Li: "Wish I had his money!" Pete Taylor: "Me too!" Latoya Martin: "Don't forget to share!").
The movie looks great and, thanks to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, sounds great as well. When I first saw Reznor's name, I feared he might get carried away with his industrial angst sounds, but the score both sets and echoes the tone of the story very well.
Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) stars as Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard student that made it happen. He's brilliant with computers but not so hot with humans. After his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) breaks up with him ("Dating you is like dating a stairmaster!"), he writes an ugly blog entry about her and whips up a "Which Girl is Hotter?" website using photos of Harvard women hacked from other sites. It's a big success, making him the object of admiration for his skills and disgust for his misogyny.
Long story short: Mark gets recruited by twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their partner Divya (Max Minghella) to program a Harvard dating site, but he fails to deliver, instead teaming up with his pal Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) for a new project called "The Facebook." Later, Napster co-founder Sean Parker, beautifully played by Justin Timberlake ("Dick in a Box") enters the picture and all hell breaks loose as Facebook grows and relationships flounder.
The film is framed by lawsuits, with flashbacks telling the tale. Fincher presents the story effectively – even as it grows more complex, it remains easy to follow. The cast is excellent, with the humanity of the characters being the strongest asset of the production. There are no traditional leading men here – the outgoing Sean Parker comes closest, but his self-absorbed nature and aggressive pettiness keeps him believable. Even the Winklevoss twins, the most cartoonish characters in the story, are fleshed out just enough to make them believable. Aside from Erica, you don't hear much from women. This is a boy's story and though these boys are obsessed with women, they have few encounters of substance with them.
Will The Social Network work for those unfamiliar/uninterested with Facebook and online life in general? I think so – this is most certainly a story about smart, angry people, not programs. But after the screening, I heard some guys talking and one of them said, "I tried to get into it, but I just couldn't keep up with all the technical talk." I suggest you don't let the computer-speak put you off. There's far more than that going on in the film, which is one of the best I've seen so far this year.