MOVIE REVIEW: The Social Network

(Image: Entertainment Weekly)

(Image: Entertainment Weekly)


Especially in these tough economic times, no one wants to hear the problems of the rich and successful.  No one wants to hear about how their feelings were hurt, their pride was damaged, or that their life was ruined.  Did anyone feel bad for the megabanks or Wall Street businessmen and women during the stock market crash of 2008, when federal bailout money covered their supposedly-necessary bonuses and Lexus payments?  Did anyone feel bad just about a year ago when billionaire athlete Tiger Woods cheated on his supermodel wife and his transgressions came to public light?  Did anyone pass the donation cup to take care of bankrupt NBA players like Antoine Walker or Derrick Coleman who blew their millions on fancy houses and cars for years?  Did anyone picket the IRS for putting tax liens on a broke Nicolas Cage in 2009?

Most of us didn't care to any one of those examples.  Many reached the polar opposite degree of becoming disgusted by how rich people frivolously spend the money most of us work so hard to earn.  They have (or had) the money to take care of their problems and either didn't or were careless.  To the blue collar public, we don't want to see or hear crocodile tears from people like that.

What people forget is that the rich are people too, just as flawed as the rest of us, only with a bigger wallet.  This may be jumping ahead to the end lessons, but the old adage of "money doesn't buy happiness" comes to mind.  At the same time, one can quickly counter and say that money can sure buy things that contribute to happiness.  However, if there's one certainty in all of this, it's another old saying that gave The Beatles a #1 song: "money can't buy you love."  For as many stories there are about the financial success of people, you'll find an alarmingly equal number of those people that end up friendless, loveless, and alone.

The highly-anticipated new film The Social Network from director David Fincher isn't a college roommate comedy.  It isn't a long legal drama either.  It isn't an underdog entrepreneur story about invention and the modern American dream.  It's not a examination allegory about the societal craze of Facebook and social networking.  At its core, The Social Network is about a guy trying to impress a girl with money and status.  Along the way, we get doses of those other elements, but it still comes back to love and acceptance.

We meet the future founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg (Zombieland's Jessie Eisenberg, acting with abandon), in 2003 as a Harvard sophomore who wants in to the university's exclusive clubs.  Instead, he's getting dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara, soon to be a household name as the title character in the eagerly-awaited American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).  He gets drunk and blogs about her badly.  Fueled by that disappointment and with the help of his roommate and best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, soon to be a household name himself as the new Spider-Man), Mark works that night to create a website rating the attractiveness of Harvard females by hacking into and merging the image files from each of university houses' individual facebook student directories.  His site, "Face Mash," gets 22,000 hits in a matter of hours and crashes the Harvard servers, bringing him disciplinary action and the beginning premonitions of what he can do bigger.

After that opening, we find ourselves years later in a law office with Mark on one side of the table and Eduardo on the other with lawyers, tension abound, and a friendship ended.  It turns out Eduardo is suing Mark for some reason.  At the same time, Mark is being sued by another party, Harvard elitist twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played through seemless facial special effect wizardry by Armie Hammer) and their partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who say Mark stole the idea of Facebook from them years ago at Harvard. 

It's from these legal story threads that The Social Network tells its entire saga.  The movie uses flashbacks of different points of view that all connect and come back to the legal questions of the present.  We see how the idea and site came to life between Mark, Eduardo, and their teamwork.  We see the competition with the Winklevosses.  We learn how Facebook grew and expanded like wildfire once Napster founder Sean Parker (an electric Justin Timberlake) got involved.  More importantly, we come to learn why and how two best friends are now on opposite sides of lawyers avoiding eye contact with each other with billions of dollars at stake.  And, once again, deep down, it's all about how Mark is alone, trying to impress the people he cares about.

The Social Network, with this flashback storytelling, becomes a compellingly watchable film that delivers on its massive pre-release hype.  It's tagline of "You don't make 500 million friends without making a few enemies" is perfect.  The film moves between its settings enough not to get bogged down in one place at a time.  You're never in that conference room long enough to have it be a taxing legal drama, but, because that's where our characters end up, you are on the edge of your seat to find out why and where the past meets the present.  This is a credit to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing and A Few Good Men) and his genius script in adapting Ben Mezrich's nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires:The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and BetrayalGo ahead and hand him the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in right now in October for this epic of escalating emotion and success filled with rapid fire dialogue.   

It will be a hotly contested discussion to find out how much of The Social Network is really true.  A great deal of that success goes to the impressive acting from a young and reasonably inexperienced cast.  Jesse Eisenberg arguably plays the best polarizing, self-destructive titan this side of Howard Hughes and Citizen Kane (yes, that big).  Yet, it may be his co-stars that steal the show.  This is Andrew Garfield's first big role and he might hold a larger piece of the emotional core than Jesse.  Justin Timberlake, thanks to this role and his energetic appearances on Saturday Night Live, is quickly becoming a better actor with screen presence than he is a musical performer.

While Sorkin's script is amazing, it's director David Fincher who puts it all together to craft a compelling movie with his incredible technical style and expertise.  He's quickly becoming one of this generation's best directors with a resume that boasts Se7enThe Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, andThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While his earlier films might have given him the pigeon-holed reputation as a dark twist-master, he has become a complete filmmaker and storyteller with Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network.  All that's missing is an Academy Award which, with no offense to Slumdog Millionaire, he should have gotten for Button two years agoHe may give Inception's Christopher Nolan (another great director without the top prize on his resume) a serious run for Best Director this year.

Finally, in what may be the biggest surprise of all, they all came together to make a movie about Facebook that didn't really talk about Facebook itself.  Sure, we found out how it came to be and how it grew huge and popular, but the movie is about the people not the empire. The Social Network doesn't become a lecture on society's social networking behavior.  In the movie, Facebook itself might as well be the "One Ring," the "MacGuffin," and "Rosebud."  It's always present, but purely as a means to talk about and move the human side of the story.  For that alone, The Social Network is quite an accomplishment and one of the best of the year.

LESSON #1: DON'T BETRAY THE BONDS OF FRIENDSHIP-- Good friends are hard to find and you must choose wisely.  Those that become your closest and most trusted friends have your best interests in mind.  They have earned that trust in return.  Don't be selfish or jealous enough to lose them when all they are trying to do is what's best for you, especially in those times when you can't see that yourself.

LESSON #2: MONEY CAN'T BUY HAPPINESS-- As discussed at the beginning of the review, this timeless saying rings true so well in The Social Network.   The funny thing is Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire in history, didn't do it for the money.  He did it for the title, status, and acceptance, which leads to...

LESSON #3: STATUS WON'T BUY HAPPINESS ANY BETTER THAN MONEY--  Mark's chief goal while at Harvard was to get into their exclusive fraternal clubs and decided it took making a splash to do it.  Mark became incredibly jealous over his roommate Eduardo's well-off financial background and the invitations that he was getting to those clubs over him.  He was heartset on that being the route to popularity, sex, success, acceptance, and a better life.  However, that doesn't work either because...

LESSON #4: NEITHER ONE OF THEM WILL BUY YOU LOVE EITHER--  Remember, at its core, this movie is about a guy trying to impress and win over a girl.  Men have done this for a long time (including this reviewer).  They occasionally think a big-time title or position that brings money, expensive things, or impressive gifts can win over a woman, when all it really takes is love, respect, and appreciation.  Treat a woman with the latter and you'll find the love and acceptance you seek, without ending up rich and alone.  Ask George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life.  He'll tell you how rich he is and why.