Sunday, October 3, 2010

REVIEW: The Social Network

Just a warning...there are spoilers in this review, so if you are planning on seeing The Social Network, you might want to just read the intro synopsis paragraph and skip the rest.

Critics everywhere seem to be having "filmgasms" over this true-ish account of the creation of, and lawsuits surrounding, the social networking site, Facebook. I definitely found the moviegoing experience entertaining, and it's one of the better films of 2010, however, I think my overall impression falls a little short of the adoration being heaped upon The Social Network. Director, David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The American President, TV's The West Wing) take what, in real life, was most likely a relatively bland and unaffecting series of events, and transform it into a compelling story of a socially awkward intellect, who, quite ironically, created one of the most intrinsically social environments the world has ever seen. The performances, for the most part, were pretty solid, particularly Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. The dialogue was very sharp, adding some comic relief, and again, making this a tellable story. There was something about the experience that left me feeling as if the dramatic component fell somewhat flat. Although there were individual  moments of palpable tension amongst the characters, I never got that subtle chill down my back or that "oh shit" feeling that the best dramatic films have a way of stirring up. That, for me, leaves the final grade as a B+...somewhat short of greatness, but still a very worthwhile all-around film. Also, as a fun side note, there is one scene in which Mark Zuckerberg is seen wearing an "Ardsley Athletics" t-shirt. This is of absolutely no consequence to anyone, except for the microscopic sliver of the U.S. population who reside in, or have resided in, the small-town burb of Ardsley, NY. As a graduate of Ardsley High School, it was just cool to see that on screen, as I am sure it is the only time Ardsley has been, or will be, immortalized in film. Unless, of course, another product of the Ardsley school system ever accomplishes something cinema-worthy.

Here's a breakdown of what went right and what went wrong with The Social Network:

DIALOGUE - Aaron Sorkin is probably best known for creating the long-running TV series The West Wing. He was also the scribe behind one of the best films of all-time, A Few Good Men, and another very good film from the 90's, The American President. He also created a great, but short-lived TV dramedy, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which unbelievably only lasted one season. This guy is a more than accomplished writer. His dialogue in The Social Network is really what drives the film. It's through Sorkin's words that the audience gets insight into the ineptitude of the central character, Mark Zuckerberg, to adequately communicate with other human beings. He feels in his most natural state when his fingers are doing the "talking" - on a computer keyboard. This is, of course, if we are to accurate the entire content of the movie as accurate. The on-screen incarnation of Zuckerberg has no clue how to effectively establish a relationship with a girl, for instance, but he needs relatively few words to systematically tear down those who oppose him and his efforts regarding Facebook. The main victims of these terse tongue-lashings are the attorneys for the Winklevoss twins, who claim Zuckerberg derived the idea for Facebook by stealing their concept for a Harvard-based social networking site, and Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg's former friend, who was pushed out as CFO and significant stakeholder of Facebook. So, who doesn't like to see attorneys get their comeuppance?

JESSE EISENBERG - Not exactly award-worthy, but a very assured portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as the character was written. He's very believable as the awkward nerd genius, who becomes, as indicated by the title of the book on which the film was based, an "accidental billionaire."

MAX MINGHELLA - The son of the late, Oscar-winning director, Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain); he portrays Divya Narendra, a business partner of the aforementioned Winklevoss brothers. This was not a prominently featured character, but Minghella steals the scenes he's in, briskly conveying Narendra's incredulity at standing idly by while Zuckerberg usurped the idea for The Harvard Connection social networking site.

ANDREW GARFIELD - In playing one of Mark Zuckerberg's only friends, Eduardo Saverin, Garfield gives what is probably the most accomplished performance in The Social Network. I didn't really feel bad for the Winklevoss brothers; they didn't really do anything that I could ascertain, to warrant credit for the launching and subsequent success of Facebook (at least as events were depicted in the film). However, Saverin, in Garfield's hands, becomes the most sympathetic character in this whole ordeal. He forked over the seed money that allowed Zuckerberg to accumulate the Internet bandwidth necessary to launch the early incarnation of Facebook. He subsequently poured additional capital into a bank account as the Facebook phenomenon spread. And the thanks he got for all his early personal and financial support - he was purportedly tricked into signing documents that relieved him of his significant financial stake in the company, as well as his title of CFO. Saverin's pain, anger, helplessness, and sense of betrayal are all central to the core of the story, and Garfield hits all the right emotional notes.

DIRECTING - David FincherSe7en and Panic Room well enough, but wasn't so sold on Zodiac, which was probably his most critically acclaimed film until now. And Benjamin Button was, quite simply, a bore. I'm eager to see what he does with the Hollywood adaptation of the Swedish supersmash literary "Millennium Trilogy," otherwise known as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books. With The Social Network, I've already divulged my main gripe regarding the level of drama. For me, this was most evident in two scenes. One, was when Eduardo Saverin finds out that he's signed away his financial stake in Facebook and title of CFO. A particular directing convention is employed here, and it's one that I happen to hate. Here, you see Saverin and some other character, most likely a company lawyer of some kind, conversing in a small conference room at the new Facebook offices. The camera pans back so the audience is on the other side of the glass wall, and you see the characters' lips moving, but you can no longer hear what's being said. This is just a pet peeve of mine, but I detest when directors do this in film. To me, it completely interrupts the emotional momentum. Another example of Fincher losing his grip on the tension, comes in the very last scene of the film. Marilyn Delpy, one of the associates on the legal team representing Mark Zuckerberg, is left alone in the room with Zuckerberg. She attempts to convince him of why he's going to have no choice but to agree to settle the two lawsuits out of court. In my estimation, this should be a bone-chilling realization for Zuckerberg, who up until then, had been quite cavalier in his attitude toward the entire proceeding. As the screen overlay in the next few moments tells us, the Winklevoss brothers and partner Narendra received a cool $65 million in their settlement. This must have been a bitter pill for Zuckerberg to swallow. Rashida Jones, as Delpy, takes a more cutesy, flirty stance in explaining the situation to Zuckerberg. Kind of anti-climactic.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE - I'm sure pretty much everyone will disagree with me on this count, since people seem to drool over everything this guy does. The audience was to believe that Mark Zuckerberg was completely and utterly mesmerized by Napster co-founder, Sean Parker; that he was that enigmatic of a personality that Zuckerberg mindlessly pushed his best friend aside in order to follow the advice of his new found business mentor. This was supposed to be an unabashed man crush from the very first meeting. I just didn't buy Timberlake as someone emanating those electric vibes. Maybe it's because I personally just don't get the whole Timberlake phenomenon, and I was projecting that onto his performance here. Maybe it's because when I see him, I think of his SNL sketches. Who knows? I just wasn't sold on this particular bit of casting.

And that's pretty much it :-)

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