Thursday, November 18, 2010

An almost irrelevant movie review: Social Network

I started writing a review of Social Network the very night we saw it in the theater...a month ago. Yeah, I'm the paragon of timely content. In my defense, it's still playing in the theater next to my apartment. Also, sorry it's sooooo insanely long, but I had a lot to say. Enjoy!

Thank goodness The Social Network isn’t meant ultimately to be about love. Love, or a girlfriend at least, is certainly the catalyst behind the main events of the movie (and by implication the real story behind the movie, though  we may never know that for sure). But director David Fincher lets the love story simmer underneath everything we see, bubbling over only once or twice, despite how tempting it might have been to bring it to the forefront.

The Social Network opens on a breakup scene. If you didn’t know this already, I hope you won’t consider my revelation a spoiler, since it’s more a pivotal plot device than an emotional episode.  There are two very prominent points I noted here: one, Aaron Sorkin’s writing is in its full, massive glory as the actors valiantly manage to deliver eight pages of dialogue in three minutes (the story goes that the scene took ninety-nine takes). And two, Rooney Mara’s is Natalie Portman’s vocal doppelganger. You might even be a little distracted by it, as I was.

Let’s take a moment here to talk about casting. Overall, each actor was excellent, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of them get some recognition come awards season. Especially Eiesenberg, but we’ll get to that in a moment. I’ll admit, to me the most spot-on casting came in the form of the Winklevoss twins, played by Armmie Hammer. Yeah, that’s his real name, and yeah, he played both twins. And I had no idea Cameron and Tyler were played by one actor until after the movie was over. In what might just be, in my mind, one of the most astonishing feats of CGI ever accomplished, Hammer did both sides some scenes with another actor (Josh Pence) and Fincher CGI’D HIS FACE ONTO PENCE’S BODY IN POST. And I never suspected a thing. (In other scenes, traditional Freaky Friday-style twin methods were used in which two performances by Hammer were digitally stitched together.) In an industry where special effects are too often shouted to audiences with “this one goes to eleven” bombast, Fincher sneaks in and lulls us with a bit of artistry that enhances, supports and never distracts from his film. And if I can say one more thing about the Winklevii, it’s that both actors exude a wholesome, built, blonde Harvard-ness that on first blush feels Abercrombian, until your realize that these young men would find that brand hopelessly beneath them…instead, they are much closer to Ralph Lauren and Burberry in status and aesthetic. So imagine my amusement when I read that Pence, the actor whose face was replaced by Hammer’s, is no other than a former Ralph Lauren model.

In other casting, Andrew Garfield as co-founder Eduardo Saverin, the put-upon co-founder of Facebook is good, even great, though nothing about his performance sticks out enough to seem worthy of comment. Justin Timberlake was an understandable choice for Sean Parker, but he comes of f somewhat unpolished in comparison to the stronger performances going on all around him. He certainly succeeds in bringing the energy and blind ambition necessary for the entrepreneurial founder of Napster, and perhaps the slightly disingenuous air to his delivery actually added to his character, who serves a one-dimensional purpose as the wedge that drives Saverin and Zuckerberg apart.

But, of course, the most important, and certainly the most impressive, performance comes from Jesse 
Eisenberg. He has, with Social Network, managed to distinguish himself as an actor of great talent and versatility, and step out from under a potentially career-killing reputation as the poor man’s Michael Cera. Eisenberg probably takes great liberties in his portrayal of Zuckerberg, as the script takes great liberties with the actual events that led to the genesis of Facebook. No one will ever know exactly what happened, but as a movie-goer that doesn’t concern me. What does concern me is how effective the interpretation of those people and events is carried out. And Eisenberg gives us a Zuckerberg with an undercurrent of sociopathy. There is a certain menace behind his eyes I never would have guessed Eisenberg was capable of. One of the things the movie tries to convince us of is that Mark Zuckerberg is not a jerk, he’s just trying hard to be one. As if his self-promoting actions and disregard for the well-being of others (even those he calls his friends) is supposed to be the mere social awkwardness that accompanies genius. On first blush, the final scene (in which he sits refreshing his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page over and over) comes off as sympathetic. Poor little billionaire, all his money and success couldn’t get him the approval of the girl he lost. But looking back, it’s more like the final scene is set up to present the whole movie as a prologue to who he is about to become.  Zuckerberg is like a young dictator on the cusp of his next conquest. His disregard for money or wealth, heavily emphasized as if it’s endearing in the film, is not so much a virtue as a symptom of his single-minded pursuit of power and domination. Which, in light of all he has accomplished as of yet, is a frightening prospect.

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