Friday, October 1, 2010


Hey, can you talk about this?

Hey, it's time for "The Facebook Movie", which would sound as ungainly and stupid as it does.  But in the hands of David Fincher, via Aaron Sorkin's snappy-as-hell screenplay, it becomes, very oddly enough, (somewhat) comparable to his previous cult-object Fight Club.  Here we have the story of an awkward guy who is an outsider (albeit here in Harvard, so he is already somewhat accepted, so let's say an outsider in the inside), and he doesn't really hit it off with the girl, and this affects everything else that will happen in the story.  

Mark Zuckerberg (played in a perfectly genius-cum-Asperger-syndrome-like affectation Jesse Eisenberg) goes back to his dorm, gets drunk, writes on his live-journal about his terrible night while also making a site called 'Facemash' where he gathers all of the pictures of girls he can that go to college in the immediate area and makes a "Yey" or "Ney" clicking system.  It gets huge in one night.  The Harvard computer system crashes.  Zuckerberg barely knows what he's started.

Next, thanks in some small part (or large depending on POV) to a couple of identical jock-twins, he gets the idea for a social networking system that collides the entire college experience, who you "are", you you're friends with, interests, and, naturally, your "relationship status".  Facebook becomes huge, really huge, and it spread out from Harvard to other schools in the area, then, thanks to Napster Playboy Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake who nearly steals the show), into other continents and with lots of bankroll behind it.  Facebook now has (practically) corporate sponsorship... and then Zuckerberg creates chaos by exploding buildings so that the credit all goes back to zero.

I am Jack's pj's

Ok, maybe not that last part.  Maybe I'm even reaching in trying to compare a scathing satire on consumerism and bad behavior to a sorta bio-pic of the rise and (sorta) fall of the people who came up with  But, as with most directors, it's hard not to posit the lagtest film in with the rest of the director's cannon.  And it's a bit of a change of pace for Fincher, who has characters speaking really tight patter that goes by at a mile a minute by smart people.  

This goes without saying it's an Aaron Sorkin script - who, as my father-in-law notes, writes his characters speaking "Sorkinese" as one character speaks very fast and the other(s) try to keep up - and that it's also a 160 page script shot as a two-hour movie.  Only The Gilmore Girls could getaway with so much dialog in such a short time.  Oh, and this movie doesn't end with the impending end of the world.  Only the conclusion of some lawsuits and the ambiguity of a friend request being constantly page-refreshed to The Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man."

You're gonna have to keep me up alll night.

But enough of the comparisons.  How does it work as a movie in and of itself?  Really, really well.  Yes, the character talk pretty fast, and they're all very intelligent.  The dumbest guy in the movie is really dumb, but he's just a one-scene character who doesn't notice Bill Gates was at a speaking engagement even as he was just there.  It's also a fact that many of the characters are set in and from Ivy league schools like Harvard and Stamford.  It's almost like they talk in big words- Zuckerberg especially has a Rain Man quality in having an easier job speaking in code than speaking with other people on the "social" level- and it's when things get down to the harder parts, like dealing with the BIG money coming their way, that it gets complicated.  Sorkin's wit once or twice gets to be so high-pitched that it flies over one's head.  Other times, it is just about right.  Many lines score effortlessly.

Fincher has his camera side of things down, exceptionally well.  If it doesn't get to the dark, grainy and curious-dangerous heights of Zodiac, then he and DP Jeff Cronenwith (also, btw, Fight Club) find just the right balance of having every shot look interesting, even when it's just two talking head in basic two shots and some creative use of an advanced stedicam.  It glides along into the party areas and school dorms, from room to room, student to student.  Is it showing off?  A little, but it's the kind that sticks to its own logic in presenting the story.  Nothing is so showy that you're pulled out of this plot, which is already complicated enough in Sorkin's riff (or rip) on Rashomon style narrative with the varying telling from a deposition.  In a way it is, as far as Fincher can get, graceful.. and still grainy and green-tinted.  

No relation to John Forbes Nash

In the tale of the Facebook-making-of, it's the characters that have to count.  This is what will count in the film's favor, for people who aren't expecting the most; that is, those few who aren't aware of the massive hype around the film (i.e. 98% rating on  Mark Zuckerberg is, for his faults at being just a relatively "normal" human being, totally fascinating.  We- or at least I- can relate to those faults, of being obsessed with something so much that the social skills required to function around people falter.  Others may see something like that as well, despite Zuckerberg as a character here being so unprepared for the world he's in.  He needs someone like Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), who is good with women and has connections.  The one thing in common, and makes it most captivating, is that they're really both in over their heads when they finally meet Sean Parker (Timberlake).  One is repelled, one is sucked in by the "forget millions - BILLIONS" mind-set.  

Eisenberg and Garfield are the break-out actors here.  This is not the first time they've done top-notch work; Eisenberg also surprised in Adventureland last year and, years before, The Squid and the Whale.  Garfield is just hitting his stride with Never Let Me Go and a small, respectable part in Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.  The two characters they play here are very far from alike but both sympathetic and, to a degree, empathetic.  They make people who should be pretty unlikable recognizable and deeply felt: Zuckerberg for his poor communication skills and his sense of grabbing on to someone's statement and tearing it apart (the line "You're not an asshole, you just try to be one" is most accurate), and Eduardo as a guy so in over his head but grabbing on to the 30% of power he has.  Garfield has more emotionally to do, but Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as if he's got a secret he may not know he has, and talks awkwardly not as a quirk but because it's who he is, with shifting eyes and a strangely confident demeanor.  

So I was in this group a while back you might've heard of...

Oh, and Timberlake steals the scenes he's in.  It's a grab for an Oscar nomination that will probably pay off in the kind of showy and showstopping turn.  His Sean Parker comes on like a rock star and knows it, and in the end pays hard for it, but enjoys the ride every minute.  In a way I could see a more conventional director and writer focusing on Parker's story (which is loaded much more with the label of celebrity from  Napster and other things) and Zuckerberg would be a supporting character.  The brilliance of The Social Network is to elevate a person who would rather be in a room all night typing away like zapped in on a sub-conscious level to a lap-top into the status of icon, or unintentional icon (based on a book "The Accidental Billionaires").  It's an articulate, savage drama that takes its characters as characters and not the usual "movie" people.  If it's not the most socially relevant movie of its time, it's got the theatrical chops, in craft and artistry, performance and photography, that most other American films this year haven't touched, or thought to touch.  

Only downside, the choir-version of Radiohead's "Creep" is nowhere to be found in the film.  Though on an aside iroicidence (yes, I made up that word just not, irony-coincidence), as soon as I got in my car and left the theater a 'rock-block' of Radiohead songs came on the radio.  Belongs there, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, and here is the link to a wonderful blog by Jim Emerson (as if he usually writes anything but), and my friend Karl Leschinsky (who has his own blog) and my comments to him on facebook:

    "Jim does it again. Prepare for the most mindblowing "Social Network" review yet. Though it's a blog, not really a review. But then again it's both.

    And it gets at how mysterious this movie really is, even after seeing it, maybe you didn't quite see what you thought you did. Zuckerberg isn't the villain, he isn't the hero, he isn't even necessarily someone we accept as grey: he just is, the movie isn't sure what to make of him yet, even while other characters are writing him off as one thing or another.

    And critics too: Jim offers an idea here contrary to most opinion: maybe he's not a visionary genius, maybe he just knew how to read the right code. (At the right time, in the right place, as they say.)

    Also, considering he wrote about "Zodiac" as a movie about code, Jim has identified one of the main elements of Fincher as auteur, not just talent-for-hire. (Not there's anything wrong with that.)

    Ps. This blog gets at a moment in the movie I wrote about at length the other day, just one shot from the movie but there it is:

    Zuckerberg-the-genius is an outsider at his own party, glass between him and the partiers as he has an idea and we see a lamp shade reflection inbetween his eyes and where his gaze his looking at, making the connection between the lightbulb going off in his head and the world on the other side of the glass that he isn't a part of. We know in that shot his inspiration comes from recognizing he isn't part of that world and has to focus on his own... which gives him an advantage of sorts, from where he is (literally, metaphorically, personally) he can see *their* big picture, he just can't be in it."

    Me: That's a great image to focus on. I wish I'd thought of it.

    And yeah, this is something that I should've gotten to in my own blogpost on the movie, but I could feel it: Mark isn't a hero or a villain, he makes up this Bill Gates like character who has his mind so set on something that his outsider form takes on being ever-so stuck into getting in on the inside. The one big conventional thing in the film - though I enjoyed it as it kind of felt like a reference on Fincher's part, if unintentionally, to the sort of tortured bond between Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club - is how much Zuckerberg just wants Erica back, or for there to be normalcy. But Mark is stuck in his own zone, and wrote the blog disdaining her, "writing online is written in *ink*" she says, and so this spurs him on further. That last shot of him refreshing the page awaiting her friend request had me smiling ear to ear. It's nice to see a filmmaker get at the heart of something when, as Emerson says, the movie is about a guy and probably other guys (though I don't know if it's as much with the twin jock douchebags) who speaks in code.

    It's funny cause my father in law saw the movie with me, and he doesn't hate Aaron Sorkin but he's bothered by what he calls "Sorkinese" where, as in other things he's written (i.e. West Wing) a character speaks really fast and intellectually, and there's one character who tries to catch up. That is in a nut-shell the opening scene of the movie, but really how can it open any other way to establish *this* character? Sorkin writing a character like Mark Zuckerberg and those around him- kind of like screwball bio-pic on cocaine - is a match made in movie heaven."