They say necessity is the mother of invention, but it could also be petty jealousy. Indignant that his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) has just dumped him, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) goes back to his campus dorm room, pops open a few bottles of beer and goes on an all-night mission of vindication: hacking into the Harvard directory and creating a website where guys can rate the attractiveness of one girl over another. "Facesmash.com" gets him in trouble with the Harvard higher-ups, but having created something capable of crashing the entire campus server -- while drunk! -- he begins formulating an idea that would eventually turn him into the youngest billionaire in the world.
The Social Network is all about that jealousy. Not just the jealousy of Zuckerberg toward his ex, but also the jealousy of the Winkelvoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer) at the success facebook recieves when it beats their site, ConnectU, to the market; the jealousy of Zuckerberg's best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) when he sees how fast and loose Zuckerberg is with success and invention; and most of all, the jealousy of the Zuckerberg character towards the kind of exclusive Harvard clubs his considerable intellect can't get him into. Director David Fincher intercuts the coding of the site with glimpses of campus parties, but they're so decadent and stylish, it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine these scenes, straight out of a rap video, are Zuckerberg's mental picture of what's happening rather than what's actually going on.
Fincher is a rich visual stylist, and The Social Network has an impressive polish that reflects its prestigious setting. Here, he's been paired up with "The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, and Sorkin's dialogue is dizzying and clever, especially when it pops out of Eisenberg's mouth. Viewers who have seen Eisenberg in films like Adventureland and Zombieland might've written him off as a more verbose version of Michael Cera, but his performance here is such a definitive 180-degree turn from his work in those films, it makes them seem more impressive as performances. Eisenberg's bitter, hyper-intelligent harshness makes the film, and while I'm no prognosticator, I would hope his work scores him an Oscar nomination.
Another impressive aspect of The Social Network is the way it illustrates the connections suggested by the title. In an early-on scene, Fincher cuts between Zuckerberg and the Winklevosses deliberating in a room over whether Zuckerberg stole the twins' idea for ConnectU, and the meeting they're talking about actually happening. The most interesting thing is the inflections in the visualization of events, in which Eisenberg and Hammer's tone and reactions to each other are perfect. You can see why, through time, anger, and exaggeration, both sides are accurately recounting their perspective of what happened and how they might've interpreted or re-interpreted what the other person was thinking.
Approximately a third of the film tracks the creation and rise of facebook, via flashbacks and the stand-off between Zuckerberg and the brothers Winklevoss; the rest is about Saverin and his separate case against Zuckerberg, who eventually ousts his friend at the urging of Sean Parker (an impressively slimy and despicable turn by Justin Timberlake). Most interesting about this section is how Zuckerberg is presented as being genuinely more savvy than his pal; anyone saying the film is completely unsympathetic towards Zuckerberg should consider how strongly Fincher and Sorkin illustrate Saverin as a guy frantically clinging to what he knows, because it's the only way to keep himself in the picture.
The film slows a tad during the last 20 minutes. Garfield is not a bad actor, but he's not nearly as interesting as the Winklevoss twins, and his performance isn't up to Hammer's level. He gets a great beat with Timberlake that says worlds about Parker, but he comes out behind thanks to the film's somewhat distasteful treatment of Brenda Song's character, who is painted as an irrational harpy without rhyme or reason. Many viewers will take issue at the ending, which admittedly has a whiff of Hollywood-ization to it. Thinking about it in terms of the film (without explaining what happens), however, it's tragically logical: despite his invention, Zuckerberg remains on the outside, a bit of a loner, desperately trying to get in.
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