McGinnis: ‘Social Network’ is the year’s best filmWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A young man and woman sit in a crowded campus restaurant. The man, clearly very intelligent, is treating the conversation like a tennis match, trying to score points. He’s constantly adding new things, correcting, doubling back, changing course and then reversing again. The woman, who is no intellectual slouch, is trying heroically to keep up, but his brain and ego are on fast-forward. When she tells him she’s breaking up with him, it takes him a minute to register that she’s serious.
This is the opening scene of “The Social Network,” and it quickly establishes many important things. It sets in motion all the events which are to follow. It demonstrates the remarkable nature of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, which is intelligent and complicated without being too complex. And it gives the first glimpse of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the anti-social misfit who will change the way the world interacts socially.
No reason to beat around the bush — “The Social Network” will be the best movie of 2010. This is one of those magical moments where the talents of director, writer, actors and more have coalesced into a nearly perfect product, and it seems to do it all so effortlessly.
The year is 2003. After his disastrous date, Harvard undergrad Zuckerberg walks back to his room and begins feverishly working on a website where students will vote on how hot female classmates are. He cobbles the site together with the help of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Within four hours, the site has so much traffic it crashes Harvard’s servers. Zuckerberg gets into big trouble. But he also thinks he’s onto something.
So do the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer), who have an idea for a website where Harvard students will interact socially. What makes it different from Friendster or MySpace, Zuckerberg asks? Exclusivity, answer the twin athletes, who are a few pegs above Zuckerberg in the Harvard social order. He agrees to work with them. Then Zuckerberg almost immediately throws out their concept and develops his own, funded by his friend Saverin — Facebook.
Did he rip the Winklevosses off? “The Social Network” wisely never really tries to answer that question. The film’s narrative structure is built on two depositions for two separate lawsuits levied at Zuckerberg. The testimony acts as narration for the film, which follows the founding of Facebook and its rise from Harvard fad to worldwide phenomenon. The film lets everyone involved have their say, and leaves it to the audience to decide what to think.
The key to the whole movie lies in the relationships between the characters. Saverin is supportive and wants to help Zuckerberg make money off of his — or, rather, their — creation. Zuckerberg is resistant to change, doesn’t want his baby to lose its “cool” factor. The conflict is exacerbated by the arrival of Napster founder Sean Parker (played amazingly well by Justin Timberlake), who Zuckerberg idolizes like a rock star. Saverin, rightly, sees him as competition.
As brilliantly played by Eisenberg, the Zuckerberg character remains an enigma, as he should be. He’s not likeable by any stretch of the imagination.
Little in director David Fincher’s resume would have indicated how smoothly this film plays. He’s always been a remarkably interesting director, but the movie has none of the visual flourishes that often mark his work. Instead, he uses his camera to establish the look and feel of the campus world that his characters inhabit, which is contrasted with the cold, corporate world which is to come. The result feels 100 percent authentic from all angles, aided by the remarkable script by Aaron Sorkin, who will surely win an Oscar for his work.
Some have called into question “The Social Network’s” version of events, saying the real story is far different. This may be true, but that is irrelevant. “True stories” in the movies are never really true. “Citizen Kane,” based largely on the life of William Randolph Hearst, wasn’t exactly accurate, either. But what we have here is a film that feels emotionally true, and plays with remarkable power. As with “Kane,” “The Social Network” ends with a man who has unbelievable wealth, but lacks the one thing that would make him happy. He has all the friends in the world but he’s totally alone.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.