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.
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 Facebook.com. 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."
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.
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 Rottentomatoes.com). 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.
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.