REVIEW: Social Network Brilliantly Explores the Facebook Frontier

Movieline Score:

social_network_rev_pg3_500.jpgBy the time you read this, New Media -- including its tenacious, multi-tentacled offspring, Social Media -- as you knew it last year, last month or even yesterday, will no longer exist. The story of New Media is so perpetually new it's being written and overwritten even as we speak. Shouldn't movies -- those lumbering, endangered beasts that, done right, take months and sometimes even years to make -- be the worst mode for examining even just one angle of this quicksilver mirror world? What hope does a relatively old-school filmmaker like David Fincher have, as he takes on one of the most amorphous and ambiguous success stories in the Internet's short history, of capturing lightning in a bottle?

The Social Network, which tells one possibly, sort-of-true version of the story of Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook, could easily have been a folly or even a large-scale disaster. Instead Fincher and his screenwriter, TV writer-god Aaron Sorkin, have made a seemingly modest picture that achieves something close to greatness the old-fashioned, slow-burning way: By telling a story with faces, dialogue and body language of all types, from awkward to swaggering. It also does the unthinkable: In a climate where many of us feel compelled to advertise our ever-changing moods, our hopefully not-so-ever-changing relationship status, our "what we're up to now" scheduling minutiae, The Social Network slows down the clock, just for the space of a few hours, to ask, "Why?"

The Social Network opens in 2003, as Jesse Eisenberg's Zuckerberg sits in a noisy Boston-area club with his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara, who's terrific, and terrifically pointed, in her two brief scenes). Zuckerberg, a Harvard undergrad, is trying to explain to Erica, a lowly (in Harvard terms) Boston University student, how important it is for him to get into one of Harvard's prestigious clubs. The more Erica tries to assuage his fears of not getting in, the more aggressively and, worse yet, absent-mindedly, he tears her down. "Dating you is like dating a StairMaster," she tells him, an early zinger in a movie filled with them. But eventually Zuckerberg's clueless cruelty wears her down (among other things, he tells her she doesn't need to study. Why? "Because you go to B.U."). She leaves the table and she leaves him, prompting him to go back to his room in a funk, talk trash about her on his blog, and then, as his anti-woman-huff gathers steam, go on to invent the most explosive social-networking tool of the admittedly young 21st century.

In the first 10 minutes of his movie, Fincher shoots down the conventional wisdom that nerds and geeks are all really nice guys, just aching for a girl to give them a chance. Zuckerberg is, as Erica puts it plainly in the movie's first scene, an asshole, and through the course of the movie he will be nothing but: The Social Network isn't about grand transformation; it's about stubborn, old-fashioned emotional stasis. Technology changes by the day; in the Fincher/Sorkin version of the Facebook story, Zuckerberg doesn't change at all.

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