October 1, 2010

Film Review: The Social Network. ~ Rachel Steele. (Plus, Video Trailer).

This is the Dawning of the Age of The Social Network.

One question trumps all when it comes to The Social Network, which I saw premiere at the New York Film Festival last week and opens nationwide today.

Does it live up to the hype?

At the risk of putting the cart before the horse, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

I can’t speak for other cities, but it’s hard to go two blocks in New York without seeing a sign promoting the film as “The movie of the year.” Would I go that far?

I might.

First and foremost, the Aaron Sorkin-penned script is wildly entertaining, razor sharp film dialogue that never feels forced. David Fincher’s direction is every bit as fast as the dialogue, and the collaboration of their two minds doesn’t border on brilliant, it is brilliant.  This movie moves along at the speed of your News Feed on election day, but you don’t have to be of the Facebook generation or even a Facebook user to enjoy and appreciate the film. As Sorkin expressed, The Social Network is about timeless themes of “friendship, loyalty, class, and power,” but it’s shot on the RED, the revolutionary digital camera system, and features seamless CGI, a Henley Regatta scene is a highlight, making it a true product of the digital era. Both Sorkin and Fincher only joined Facebook in regards to researching the film, and despite—or because of—this vantage point they place the advent of Facebook’s founding squarely in the cultural zeitgeist without having been a part of said zeitgeist.  Though a narrative of the not too distant past, this well-researched film documents a cultural shift in an age where human collective knowledge may be doubling every 10 years.

The movie is structured by interspersing the founding of the company, both in a Harvard dormitory and then in Palo Alto, California, with litigation scenes, as Mark Zuckerburg (Jessie Eisenberg), was sued twice, once by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), a pair of blue blood Harvard rowing Olympians (both in their physical stature and actual competition in Beijing), and their fellow young entrepreneur (the fantastic Josh Pence), but also by his best (nay, only, the film asks?) friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).  There are dueling narratives about the company’s inception and first year, and the film recognizes that, and in doing so creates an ambiguity that mirrors real life rather than play morality tale.  It also makes for one hell of an ensemble piece.

The stars of the film (and all of their support, from the President of Harvard to Zuckerberg’s college girlfriend) are excellent.  Jesse Eisneberg inhabits Zuckerberg’s persona in a pitch-perfect rendition of a tragic hero that in lesser hands (or a lesser script) would have been at risk of appearing reductive. Zuckerberg is a complex character, by all accounts a complex person, whose invention is both a contradiction to an alienating, caustic and manipulative personality, and stems from insecurities that allowed him a nuanced view of social interactions and social striving (and of course love lost).  

Eisenberg’s a brilliantly talented actor who approaches Zuckerberg with empathy. Andrew Garfield, playing the most sympathetic of the bunch, shows he is one of this generation’s serious actors to be reckoned with (though you’ll next see him in Spiderman).  Garfield, who is half-British but full accent, masterfully effects the voice of someone who spent part of his childhood in South America, as Svarin did.

If this were an easy feat, the cast of Alive, the 1993 film about the Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the Andes, would not have sounded like a team of Midwestern baseball players. Justin Timberlake again proves he is a multi-talented tour de force in a nuanced performance of the egotistical and brilliant but flawed creator of Napster and Silicon Valley rock star, Sean Parker.  Is that a stretch for Mr. Timberlake? I’ve never personally spent time with him, but I do look forward to seeing him cast in roles that are a bigger departure from his public persona.  Arie Hammer also delivers an highly comic and entertaining, impressive performance as both the Winklevi (as Eisneberg derides them).

As a feminist, it’s sort of my responsibility (and also my pleasure) to discuss the women in the film.  The creators of Facebook do not seem to value women and the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, which is not a criticism of the film so much as a criticism of the Harvard (and many other colleges’) mindset, as the genus of Facebook came out of a program that ranked Harvard girls’ “hotness” by pitting their dorm facebook pictures side by side.  However, the two women who have supporting roles in this film shine.

Mara Rooney, as Zuckerberg’s soon to be ex-girlfriend, gives a memorable and stirring performance; no small feat since it’s a small role, and one can see why Fincher tapped her for the highly anticipated The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The lovely Rashida Jones plays a jury expert and gives a talented performance in a role that functions largely an expositional plot device, which is forgiven given  her  insights, one of  which philosophically sounds  that “every creation myth needs a devil.”

Much of the film’s hype is due to the impressive trailer..

…the beginning, which is shortened in a different version, is incredibly self-referential, with status and relationship updates and scenes from Facebook photo albums set to a chilling yet beautiful rendition of Radiohead’s Creep.  The trailer alludes to the way Facebook has changed our interactions with one another (and now brands) and revolutionized communication.  The film is not like the first part of the trailer, which is just as well; most of us know how Facebook has changed our social lives.  The filmmakers instead show how the brilliant minds of Zuckerberg and Parker were able to conceive of the “digitalising of life,” and it makes for better cinema.

However, the film’s powerful and ironic last scene, which reflects both on creator and creation and is one of the many reasons the film is being compared to Citizen Kane, and goes back to my second question: is this the film of the year, our decade, for our time, if you will?  It might not be my personal favorite of the year (and it’s up there, trust me), but it is a film that speaks to our media-driven age, our advanced technology and connectivity, and our isolation and desperation.

Most importantly, like films like The Lady Eve, the 1940’s slapstick classic from Preston Sturges (whose influence can be seen in the Coen Brothers films) that questioned gender roles in romantic comedies or yes, Citizen Kane, the visually innovative film with a non-traditional narrative structure, The Social Network will be entertaining even when the era in which it takes place and reflects is long gone.  

Citizen Kane wields more of an influence on cinema as a whole than The Social Network will over time (the subject and namesake of the movie wield more influence than any one film, however) but there’s no question Fincher and Sorkin are visionaries, especially when their bodies of work are considered, and they are influential to many aspiring directors and screenwriters, and admired by critics.  While the story of Facebook is as rich as any Greek myth or Shakespearean drama, the movie is a success due to Fincher’s visual sensibility, his eye for composition, color and pace creating a beautiful, visceral film that combines with Sorkin’s smart, witty, and often biting storytelling to deserve it’s praise as a new classic.  And the Trent Reznor soundtrack is poignant, on tone (often tonal), and beautifully melodic—a perfect fit with the film.

And now for a question that isn’t being raised as much.  Did The Social Network make me want to quit Facebook? Yes, yes it did.

And not just because I’m a feminist and Zuckerberg (as portrayed in the film) is a misogynist, or at least he was when he was 19.  As Parker explains in the film, Facebook will succeed because people will begin to live their lives online; we re-live the party through pictures from the night before.  When Facebook became available to CU Boulder students, I was living in Prague and it helped me keep in touch with my friend’s antics and let them share in mine.  I treated my profile as a creative writing experiment.  Now, I wonder whether I can avoid friend requests from colleagues and analyzing someone’s facebook profile is almost as much a part of the dating process as meeting him or her in the first place.

Would I rather get offline, get off Facebook, not know who my ex-boyfriend is dating and live my life more in the present moment?  Uh, yes.

Will I quit? Nope, not a chance.

An earlier version of this post appears on womanofsteele…and it’s all over Facebook.

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