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The Social Network (12A)

Rachel Winterbottom has a lot of ‘like’ and a little ‘poke’ at the film about Facebook

Written by . Published on October 22nd 2010.


The Social Network (12A)

Facebook: 1 – noun: a social networking platform for anyone with an email address. 2 – verb: to search for a person’s profile; in context: ‘Don’t Facebook me, I’ll Facebook you.’

Based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, this is primarily a film with the goal of entertaining, rather than revealing the truth. Given that Eduardo Saverin informed the book’s account, the bitter and financially jilted ex-best friend may have supplied a somewhat biased re-telling of the tale.

We’re introduced to the central figure of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) through the exasperations of his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, Erica Albright. His distinctly one-sided conversation races eons ahead and it is obvious, as the sharp Albright strives to pluck sense from his exhausting verbal cacophony, that Zuckerberg operates on a different plane to us mere mortals. The world’s biggest social phenomenon was founded by someone unable to hold a basic conversation. The irony is not lost on the audience.

The year is 2003 and, long before the advent of the poke, Harvard student Zuckerberg wants more than this provincial life. Dumped by his girlfriend, he exacts drunken revenge on her and all females on his campus by hacking into Harvard’s intranet to access girls’ images for his version of ‘hot or not’. Two hours and 22,000 hits later, the university intranet crashes and Zuckerberg is given six months’ academic probation. If he’d stopped there, the world might be a different place.

But his hacking draws the attentions of the unsettlingly immaculate Winklevoss twins, who want his help creating an exclusive dating site called ConnectU. Fobbing them off and aided financially by his best friend, Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg sets to work on his own social website. Some technical things are said, of which the word ‘computer’ is recognisable, and you in the audience are hit with the notion that in that key moment of creation you’d probably be the guy spinning on the chair in the background.

Finally, in that unassuming dorm room, ‘Facebook’ is born. Now more recognisable to fellow students than Bill Gates, the geniuses reap the tangible benefits of their online success: money, Facebook groupies and some hot toilet sex. What could possibly go wrong?

Enter Yoko in the form of Napster Lothario, Sean Parker (a passable Justin Timberlake). While other characters are awarded a more even-handling, Parker is vilified. Filled with paranoid delusions from the off and undeservedly hero-worshiped by Zuckerberg, he appears with his contacts and coiffed hair, and drives a firm, well-greased wedge between the two friends.

The end results are the million-dollar lawsuits at the film’s focus. The first is by the steroid twins, AKA ‘The Winklevii’ (as Zuckerberg dubs them) and their business partner Divya Narendra, who say he stole their idea. The second is by his now ex-best friend, Saverin, who wants $600m for his part in the creation of Facebook after Zuckerberg and Parker apparently froze him out.

Directed by the fastidious David Fincher – he apparently averaged 90 takes on just one scene – whose film CV reads like a T4 special on the best films of all time: Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac, an unambiguous narrative was never going to be on the agenda. The flashback format of the events leading up to the court case picks apart the various versions of the same story. On the surface this might be about the creation of Facebook, but really it’s about the people you have to tread on to get to the top.

Based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, this is primarily a film with the goal of entertaining, rather than revealing the truth. Given that Eduardo Saverin informed the book’s account, the bitter and financially jilted ex-best friend may have supplied a somewhat biased re-telling of the tale.

Due to this, there are fictional interludes that fill in the gaps between the court case facts. One such is Albright, played by the brilliant Rooney Mara, soon to be proving her worth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Acting as a useful plot device, she’s used twice to spur the creation of Facebook and the plot on. It’s a blessing she isn’t real or she’d have a claim too.

Eisenberg’s usual drawl is hyped up to the nth degree as Zuckerberg. He brings his distinct likeability to the role of this disagreeable character and invites pity with those quick, darting eyes that become wounded with confusion the moment anyone asks him to account for his actions. He might be the youngest billionaire but, as this film would have you believe, he’s also completely alone.

From Boy A to ‘it’ boy, as the usurped Saverin Brit Andrew Garfield successfully stretches his acting muscles in preparation for being the new Spidey. It’s his cocky, jealous, petty and, eventually, betrayed Saverin that lends this film an edge of genuine truth in the creation myth.

The West Wing writer/producer Aaron Sorkin’s script reflects his Emmy-award-winning status. From the dry, quick-witted boredom of Zuckerberg as he talks circles around the court case lawyers to the zinging putdowns these bickering characters like to shoot at each other in heated moments, true story or not the comedy is enough to leave you satisfied.

There are some contrivances, but that’s hard to avoid when the real life players refused comment – which could account for the film’s unsympathetic portrayal. Could it have all been a school-boy revenge kick? Did Parker really snort cocaine off a girl’s stomach? Did Saverin really torture that chicken? Maybe only another court case could provide the answers. Still, fact or fiction, a melting pot of friends, money and betrayal has made for a great, well-told tale.

8/10

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