Monday, 11 October 2010
You know, something about clicking "like" or adding it as a friend or buying the farmville or something equally hateful.
"The Social Network" trundles into town on a tractor built from rapturous reviews and hyperbolic praise, to mutterings of "A movie about facebook? Who cares?" from the general populace. I didn't want to take the hype too seriously, but I found that I did care. I always look forward to a new David Fincher film, and the cinematic superhero team-up that is Fincher directing Aaron Sorkin's script was at least interesting. That they should choose "Facebook Begins" as the topic for this collaboration was equally fascinating. How's that going to work?
The film tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg, an uptight nerd with a yearning to be somebody, who invents a social networking site for the Harvard campus and is soon swept along on a wave of friend-addage as the site spreads to colleges across America and the world.
Playing out like a rock n roll biopic, we see Zuckerberg's frustration at his lot in life, the flash of inspiration which leads him to form a band (read: group of programmers) with his best friend Eduardo in order to score chicks, the rise to fame, the corrupting influence of power and money, distrust, disagreements and ultimate implosion.
It is a masterstroke for Sorkin to have treated the material this way, elevating what could've been a mind-meltingly dull topic into a form of 21st century rock n roll. They get rich, they get groupies, they take drugs, they meet Justin Timberlake... and it is a fun journey to go on. Much has been made of the fact that the film represents a "fictionalised" account of events, but when the legend is this entertaining, print the fricking legend.
The story unfolds in flashback from hearings at various law-suits brought against Zuckerberg, bringing a tragi-comic inevitability to his rise and fall as he swiftly gets out of his depth and his almost autistic social dysfunction threatens to destroy everything. I suppose that's the big joke, that the guy who invented the biggest social-networking site on the planet is an obnoxious social-retard who nobody likes.
Zuckerberg himself has spoken out against the fabricated nature of Sorkin's script and the book it is adapted from, but that's no surprise really, because he is made to look like a proper dick.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg in much the same way you would expect him to, having seen "Zombieland" or "Adventureland" or any of his other films, but with a few hidden surprises. There is a cold, calculated detachment to Zuckerberg that starts small and grows as the film rolls, making him genuinely unsettling at certain points. Eisenberg is a naturally likable presence, however, which renders some of Zuckerberg's more shocking decisions even more surprising. It's as if you can't believe he's actually doing these things. But then, maybe he didn't?
Future-Spidey Andrew Garfield pretty much steals the show as Eduardo, the friend who stumps up the money to kick things off, but soon finds the project and Zuckerberg spiralling away from him. Garfield makes him the heart of the film: funny, likable and entirely convincing in both comedic and dramatic scenes. Web-Head's in good hands.
The other corner of the big triangle is one Reverend Justin Timberlake. Timbers has had a few sneers for his film career thus far, but he's never particularly bothered me. I thought he was good in "Alpha Dog". Here, he's actually excellent as Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster, filling the role of the manipulative manager who muscles in and starts whispering "you don't need the rest of the band" to the lead singer. JT is charismatic, savvy, eccentric, conniving and a little bit camp in a role that should silence all but the most resolute naysayers. The dancing fool done good.
Honourable mention should go to Rooney Mara, playing the girl who sets Zuckerberg on his path by breaking up with him in some smart, quick-fire digressive dialogue in the first scene. She only has a few scenes, but makes an impact in all of them, managing to come across as sensitive and scathing at the same time. She's also one of the few voices of reason in the film, continually calling Zuckerberg out on his delusions and shortcomings. When, in the aforementioned opening scene, she emphatically calls him an asshole, both we and he know that she is right, and that that knowledge will hang over us for the rest of the film.
She must've made an impact on Fincher as well, as he cast her as the female lead in his upcoming "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" remake. Good for her.
And what of the man putting the words in these people's mouths? Much has been made of Sorkin's ear for machine-gun repartee, and that is very apparent here. He has a way of writing dialogue that seems natural in its cadence and erratic structure, yet at the same time is too clever and witty to be quite real. The flashback narrative design works a treat as well, allowing for multiple narrators and a lot of interaction between the narration and the onscreen image. Judging from the topicality, the verve for dialogue and the dis-jointed structuring, I would be surprised if he's not at least nominated for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars next year.
Seated behind the wheel of the "Social Network" movie fun-bus is my main man David Fincher. Finch's usual knack for gloomily beautiful visuals, sharp edits, black comedy and intense drama are all present and correct, but this is possibly his least visually flashy film yet, choosing to let the dialogue and the performances do the work rather than zooming the camera through a tea pot or something. More power to him.
It's worth noting, however, that there is a special effect in this film of such subtle brilliance that I'm almost loathe to point it out. I'm going to, though: A geezer called Armie Hammer (hilarious name made all the more hilarious by the fact that Armie is short for Armand. His parents must've loved toothpaste) plays the Winklevoss twins, siblings who sued Zuckerberg for stealing their idea and repackaging it as facebook. It is the most seamless dual-performance I have ever seen, with both twins having subtle differences in persona and appearance, and you CANNOT SEE THE JOIN. Apparently they had a body double, so it was only a digital head-replacement job, but the result is probably the greatest special effect in cinema history, and no one's gonna notice. Except the people we tell about it. Or those who read the credits at the end. Or on the IMDb.
If I had to pick a flaw in the movie, I would say that the ending felt a little abrupt, but on reflection, I see that it couldn't've been more perfect.
So give it a shot, whether you are a facebook-phobe or have like 50 million points on Mafia Wars or something, the characters and the zest of the film should be enough to keep you watching.
That's how a film about the invention of facebook works. Really well.