film review: The Social Network (2010)

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Truth is, I was pretty skeptical going into the screening of The Social Network.

The Social Network, facebook movieWell ok, that’s not a secret, I know I said it a couple of times on the ol’ twitter and I might have even mentioned it on the facebook page once. But I don’t think I ever said it here so, if you’ve never visited either of those spots, then now you know.

I think my problem with it was obvious enough… I mean… a movie about Facebook? Really? I just couldn’t see how a film about how a few *cough*nerds*cough* set up a popular website and then sued each other could be interesting. Seriously, what’s interesting about that?

Turns out there is a way you can make it interesting – by getting David Fincher to direct it, Aaron Sorkin to write the screenplay and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to do the score. And casting Justin Timberlake. Not that I’m mad interested in Justin Timberlake. I’m really not. But it was a pretty interesting move. Word is they cast him because of how they wanted people to see the guy, makes sense – you want your audience to think a certain way about a character as soon as they see them – cast someone that epitomises that attitude. Smart.

Hmm… fair warning. I’m just about to go on a bit of a ramble so if you just want to know quickly if I thought it was good or not then skip to the end, marked **The Conclusion** ;-). If you want to know why I thought it was good then keep reading…

Fact is, The Social Network is a great film. Now, it’s no masterpiece or anything… I don’t think it stacks up against some of Fincher’s other work, like Se7en or, more recently Zodiac – or perhaps I just really like serial killer films – but it is a great film… it’s just not really Fincher’s film. That’s not a problem, but it is a fact. What makes this film, pushes it above the parapet of mere story-telling, is the unique script-writing talents of Aaron Sorkin

Ironically enough, the fact that Aaron Sorkin was writing it was the one thing that I kept forgetting in the run up to this release. Ironic because it’s the one thing that should’ve really convinced me earlier that it wasn’t going to be a disaster. I loved The West Wing. The thing about Aaron Sorkin’s writing is that it makes you believe that the world is a lot smarter, a lot more witty and a lot more… concise? clear? noble?… that it makes a lot more sense than it really does.

Sorkin has taken the players in what is, ostensibly, the story of how Facebook was founded and the subsequent fallout, and created a group of utterly compelling characters. Intelligent, self assured, scintillating people who I just don’t believe could ever exist in real life. Nobody talks the way Sorkin writes, nobody. If you’re planning on seeing The Social Network and you’ve never seen The West Wing be prepared to be taken on a fantasy trip around magical land where no-one is ever lost for words and everyone has a funny quip when needed. If you do know and love The West Wing then you’ll see it from the second a character opens their mouth in this film. Sorkin’s dialogue is unmistakable.

I’m sounding like a fan girl. I know it. What can I say? If you see The Social Network you’ll know why. I wouldn’t have found this film half as enjoyable if it weren’t for Sorkin’s fingerprints. Course there are people who don’t like his writing. That’s cool, in which case I don’t think I can over-emphasise the script. If you hate his writing you’ll probably hate this film.

But, perhaps I am going on to much about the writing, it’s not like this is a film filled with two dimensional people just spouting words to push the story forwards. That’s where Fincher comes in, there’s an atmosphere that he brings to his films – the Harvard campus that Zuckerberg inhabits at the start of this film is a dark, cold place filled with faceless people who are all, undoubtedly, happier than him… the tilt-shift boat race with its Reznor/Ross twist smacks of the over-indulgence of its setting… the meeting with Parker is dizzying in it’s speed and pizazz. Where Sorkin leads the ears, Fincher brings the viewer.

Quick mention, the acting/casting is quality. I don’t think they’re going to win any awards but they’re all more than capable of keeping up with the demands of the script as well as conveying the attitudes and emotions of the characters. Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as Zuckerberg…

And speaking of Zuckerberg. What would he think of this? Zuckerberg is on record saying “I wish that no-one made a movie about me when I was alive” so we can assume that… he’s worried. The film is actually based on a book called The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich. No-one from Facebook was involved in the making of the film, though Eduardo Saverin, one of the Facebook co-founders, was a consultant on the book. So… regarding the veracity of the film, who knows? It could all be a load of bull crap. I don’t know about what actually went on but I don’t believe for one second that any of the people in the film are accurately portrayed… but why let those kinds of concerns get in the way of a good story. It’s just a movie, go along for the ride…

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Zuckerberg should be worried… Yeah, he could come off better in it but I actually thought it was very sympathetic towards him. Yes, he seems a bit arrogant, but he’s also portrayed as someone who’s insecure and is desperate to do the right thing. It’s just that doing the right thing isn’t always as easy as it sounds. And besides, who are we to criticise the follies of youth? He was only 19 when he set up Facebook, he’s only 26 now – makes ya sick doesn’t it? He’s still got plenty of time to make up for anything he’s done in the past. Hell he doesn’t have to. He invented Facebook damn it. He literally changed the world.

I hope he sees the film. It’ll probably drive him mad because well, it’s probably all fiction, but apparently he is a fan of The West Wing… maybe they can do a special version for him where they dub all the names and references… maybe then he could enjoy it too?

**The Conculsion**

If you’ve read the rest of this then you know I’ve been rambling on, sorry about that… otherwise you’ve cut to the conclusion, so here’s what I thought of the film overall. I found it fascinating. It was like… the experience of Facebook in a film. It’s voyeuristic, enviable, entertaining but ultimately… an incredibly enjoyable waste of time. There really is little to it, except that it’s unbelievably slick. It’s so well made, well put together, you have to give Fincher and Sorkin kudos. I never thought that the founding of Facebook could make a good movie, but they found a way.

As did the actors, composers, cinematographer and everyone else on the film… it’s a very specific triumph of style of substance. I don’t know if the true story of the founding of Facebook would really be inherently boring, but I can tell ya, there’s no way it could possibly be this interesting. In addition it really got me thinking about the whole “social networking” thing – I like thinking – about how people connect, why people connect and how Facebook changed the way that I, personally, connect with people… That doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot, but it has everything to do with the idea of Facebook, and that is what the film is about after all.

I walked out of this film eminently satisfied. Like I said, it was a great film. I didn’t think it was brilliant – briefly, I thought it slightly lost its pacing at the end, but that was ok because then it was over. I also thought it required a little suspension of disbelief which might be a slight stretch for some viewers. You just have to accept that the people talk like that. There’s no way around it.

And finally, I wonder about the conclusions we’re meant to draw from it. It’s not that they’re set in stone but the obvious one (taken to a basic level) does give me cause for concern. If you’ve seen it then highlight the blank: [ So… it was all about sex really? ]. I just don’t know, it makes me uncomfortable. Then again, [ maybe that’s what it’s always about… ]. Do let me know if you have any comments on that…


Bit of a postscript:

There’s one other reason I think people should see this film.

Because this is the time.

It captures the Zeitgeist * and presents it in a way that’s admirable, relevant and relatable… but it’s a time that will soon fade from memory, as all times do. Life is moving so quickly and I can guarantee that soon we’ll all move on, and we’ll look back at this film and the stench of hubris will be overwhelming, sickening, and we won’t even remember how it possibly wasn’t. How these were kids with ideas and dreams, who built a framework, populated it with human desire and changed the world. It’ll all get swept up in privacy arguments, marketing criticisms, money, petty jealousy and whatever becomes the “next best thing”.

In 1, 5, 10 years time this film will just be a curiosity of clever script writing, a good score and very competent direction and no-one who watches it will be thinking about Zuckerberg changed the way that they, personally, relate to the people around them. It’ll just be the norm… or of course, there’ll be some other norm. Who knows what the future holds.

The Social Network is coming to Irish cinemas on 15th October 2010.

* I know, I used the word Zeitgeist, it kinda goes against the ethos of the site but I really didn’t know another word for it…

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