Facecrook: Reviewing "The Social Network" on a social network
David Fincher, perhaps better known for blockbuster Brad Pitt vehicles like Fight Club and Benjamin Button, plays close to the vest with source material—e.g., Fitzgerald's novella, registering in the storied author's canon as little more than an afterthought, and silver-screening into a sprawling love-song courtesy of this director's flair for the epic. Fincher, revered by all geekdom for his particular brand of deja voodoo (the upcoming Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) is renowned for more than unabashed adaptationism—he's a bona fide maestro, cinching an Academy nod for best director in 2008, and best-of-class accolades for his adept tone-setting (see Alien 3).
It's hardly fair to leave our director doyenne holding the bag for The Social Network, adapted, natch, from Ben Mezrich's tour-de-farce The Accidental Billionaires, which debuted at number four on the NY Times' Bestseller List and nearly compromised the entire Nonfiction category. When it comes to the truth, Mezrich plays fast and loose—“nonfictionish”. Mezrich's admittedly speculative mo has served him well in the past, to say nothing of his incredulous audience, and what worked in Bringing Down the House (e.g., inventing things out of thin air) runs rampant here. Following the maelstrom of controversy dogging his “factional” body of work, Mezrich allows that “conversations and scenes [are] recreated,” which doesn't explain how he “knows” so much about Zuckerboy-genius, whom he's never even met. The end product—part hack job, part film treatment—is so much grist for the Hollywood mill that Mezrich practically dedicates the novel to his designated “first reader”: the Columbia screenwriter hired to make sense of the thing.
Enter notorious coke fiend and Entourage guest star Aaron Sorkin, who spun silk from a sow's ear in what's unquestionably the best inception movie since Inception. Taking center stage as Mark Zuckerberg is Jesse Eisenberg who doesn't portray the Facebook founder so much as become him: basking in the adulation of his Harvard contemporaries after his brainchild goes live, he's informed outside of a packed auditorium that the lecturer fingered him as the next Bill Gates. “I came late,” his admirer confesses, “I don't even know who the speaker was.” Eisenberg, without missing a beat, retorts, “That was Bill Gates.” This is the guy whose first stab at viral networking crashed Harvard's servers in less than ten minutes. This is the kid whose high-school program resulted in a seven figure bidding war between Microsoft and Yahoo. This is young Zuckerberg, and if Mezrich got one thing right it's the superiority complex that manifests in a slew of tragicomic scenarios that have come to define his undergraduate legacy. Zuckerberg is what cineastes refer to as a classic antihero and what his classmate and business partner, Eduardo Saverin, refers to as “a complete asshole”. Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield, is one of four plaintiffs whose civil suit, bookends the film's narrative and serves as a rogues gallery for the remaining antagonists: the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) and their erstwhile sidekick Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). Saverin provided seed capital, while Winklevoss and co. provided the concept of Myspace for the college crowd. Mum's the word on the former financier, but a leaked IM reveals the real Zuckerberg's less than honorable intentions:
“Check this site out: www.harvardconnection.com...Someone is already trying to make a dating site. But they made a mistake haha. They asked me to make it for them. So I'm like delaying it so it won't be ready until after the facebook thing comes out.”
Property theft and fraudulent gain are the alleged felonies, but Eisenberg's comportment—bristling indignation, yawning boredom, condescending sarcasm—is a virtuoso bit of method acting that redefines the boy-genius archetype. Trial-wi-fire, but the courtroom drama is more than an excuse for Sorkin's connect the dots flashback-dance—it's Eisenberg's chance to upstage his phone-home co-stars: when the Winklevoss twins crank up the volume on their courtside sad-song routine, Eisenberg rips out the rug with this sardonic bit of self-evidence:
“This is ridiculous—if you had invented Facebook, you would've invented Facebook.”
Winklevoss and co inspired Zuckerberg, but they were inspired by social networkhorses like Friendster and Myspace, which were the hottest things in dotcommerce circa 2004. Giving it the old college try hardly constitutes original thought.
Eduardo Saverin's case is a bit more compelling, considering he seeded the entire enterprise. Widely credited as Zuckerberg's only friend on campus, the deep pocketed Saverin is the de-facto go-to guy on the groundfloor. In no time flat he sees major return—Facebook is Ivy-League ubiquity, and ever the businessman, Saverin wastes no time “monetizing”--hat in hand he's off to Madison Ave to drum up ad dollars. But for his erstwhile partner, who's not only MIA, but gallivanting about the western hemisphere in the footsteps of one Sean Parker, Napster creator and scourge of the recording industry, who sees in Facebook a life raft for the ocean of debt accruing from innumerable MPAA lawsuits. Justin Timberlake is inexplicably convincing as the hardpartying technocrat whose Silicon Valley savvy serves as Zuckerberg's buffer zone against the vulture capitalists, and when Saverin cuts the cash to show he means business (pun intended), Zuckerberg swindles him into signing his own death warrant. Garfield attempts to lend gravitas to the role—lured to California under false premises, Facebook stake diluted to 0.03%--but it's about as convincing as the laptop-smashing temper tantrum Saverin is reduced to after his ousting. Antics aside, Garfield's mumblecore delivery evokes nothing so much as a practiced Hayden Christensen impression (who is many things except a viable muse for an up-and-comer tapped by James Cameron to take on the Peter Parker mantle).
Sorkin has ascribed the genesis of both Facebook and Napster to unrequited love—Parker and Zuckerberg commiserate clubside over love lost—but food for thought owes more to the ethics involved, e.g., should Winklevoss and co be renumerated for thinking what almost every other developer at the time was surely thinking? Is the notorious Z an asshole, or just misunderstood? Sorkin, it seems, has no desire to “...to be unfair to this young man whom I don’t know...who doesn’t deserve a punch in the face,” verbiage that seems decidedly euphemistic by time fringe characters are asserting to his protagonist's face “You're not an asshole, Mark. You're just trying so hard to be.” Zuckerberg, on the other hand, has definitely benefited from hindsight, and when asked about this unflattering portrayal remarked “I think a lot people will look at that stuff, you know, when I was nineteen, and say, ‘Oh, well, he was like that. . . . He must still be like that, right?’ If you’re going to go on to build a service that is influential and that a lot of people rely on, then you need to be mature, right? I think I’ve grown and learned a lot.”
Update your Facebook status accordingly.