Big Picture Big Sound

The Social Network Review

By Karen Dahlstrom

Karen Dahlstrom likes this

The Social Network

At this point in time, over 500 million people worldwide call their online home. Since its launch in 2004, people of all ages have used it to obsessively catalog the minutiae of their lives and surreptitiously stalk their friends, co-workers, former classmates, ex-lovers and crushes. "The Social Network" tells the tale of how this digital dynamo was founded - and it's a doozy. Told with the same overblown drama and self-importance of your friend's incessant status updates, it is nevertheless absorbing and sharply told, as if your over-sharing Facebook friend was, say, David Mamet.

Jesse Eisenberg ("Zombieland") plays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg - whom we first meet as a Harvard underclassman. While Eisenberg has drifted into Michael Cera territory of late, his particular brand of nerdy underdog schtick has always had more of an acid bite than Cera's saucer-eyed naiveté. Here, he pegs the needle at the other end playing an anti-social computer genius with a sharp tongue and a questionable moral compass.

From the outset, it's clear that Zuckerberg is arrogant, status-obsessed, brilliant and completely clueless about interpersonal relationships. After being dumped by his college girlfriend, Mark takes out his revenge by writing offensive blog posts about her and hacking into the Harvard student directories to create a site rating female members of the student body. The site earns him the ire of the ladies on campus, but generates enough traffic to crash the Harvard computer network, and brings him to the attention of some well-heeled upperclassmen with an idea for a new social networking website.

Zuckerberg agrees to develop their site, but instead builds a similar site with his friend and business partner, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The site spreads like wildfire, and soon Zuckerberg and his team are rock stars in the digital world. Whether or not Zuckerberg actually stole the idea for Facebook is dealt with in flash-forward boardroom scenes, as he defends himself against law suits from his Harvard classmates as well as Saverin, now his former partner.

Jumping back and forth between the venture's early days and its emergence as a billion-dollar entity, director David Fincher ("Se7en", "Zodiac") and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing") manage to wring a drama of Shakespearean proportions out of this pop culture tale. While Zuckerberg's genius brings him millions of followers, he alienates Saverin and all those close to him. His obsession with the site brings him to the attention of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the erstwhile founder of Once a golden boy himself, Parker now lives only on his reputation. Parker is portrayed as a kind of hustler, riding Zuckerberg's coattails to pay for his lavish lifestyle, while pushing away Saverin and anyone else who would jeopardize his position.

In addition to this bromantic triangle, "The Social Network" takes on business ethics in a way that may out-"Wall Street" that current film's sequel. The idea of worth (both of the self and monetary) is woven throughout the film. It even plays with "alpha male" versus "nerd" stereotypes in ways that are both wryly funny and painfully telling. The villain isn't always the blond-haired, 220 lb. 6'5" athlete. Screenwriter Sorkin has a great deal of fun taking on all these issues, giving the characters the same the kind of crackling, rapid-fire dialogue from "The West Wing" and "Studio 60" that made even the most mundane conversation seem incredibly important to the fate of the world. In this case, self-importance is appropriate, considering Facebook helped to create a whole generation of drama queens and over-sharers. Even Zuckerberg's ambivalence towards personal privacy is open to examination.

Though the idea of creating a movie about a website seems laughable, Fincher manages to craft a film that is fascinating to watch while being remarkably telling for its time. As it examines Zuckerberg's personal motivations, it also hits a nerve as to why sites like Facebook and Twitter are so popular. Everyone has a need to be recognized, to be seen as "special" - not just another face in the crowd. What makes "The Social Network" so interesting is seeing just how far that need can push us, and what we might lose in the process.

What did you think?

Movie title The Social Network
Release year 2010
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Told with the same overblown drama and self-importance of your friend's incessant status updates, "The Social Network" is nevertheless absorbing and sharply told, as if your over-sharing Facebook friend was, say, David Mamet.
View all articles by Karen Dahlstrom
More in Movies
Big News
Newsletter Sign-up
Connect with Us