Saturday, January 16, 2016

"The Social Network": brief review

The other day, I finally got around to watching the much-lauded "The Social Network," which stars Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as cofounder Eduardo Saverin, and Justin Timberlake as Napster creator Sean Parker. The turbulent story of Facebook's origins—who created what, and how was it done?—is told using a series of Zuckerberg's and Saverin's court depositions as the framing story, with a parallel series of flashbacks filling in the gaps. I've read that the movie contains a truckload of factual distortions and outright falsehoods, so I can't judge it as a biopic or as any sort of serious attempt to chronicle the actual founding of Facebook. With that in mind, I can only judge the film on its dramatic and cinematic merits.

While I found the film watchable, I didn't find it to be anywhere near worthy of the fawning praise it received; it was good, but not great. The film casts Zuckerberg as the arrogant, possibly dissociative-disordered asshole who is a hacking genius. His grasp of human nature is so keen that he can code a website (while pretending to code someone else's social-networking website) that caters perfectly to the proclivities of typical American university students. The paradox is that, as much as Zuckerberg understands human nature in the abstract, he's a complete mess when it comes to his own interactions with most people. The story of an out-of-touch genius who hurts those around him didn't feel like anything new; "Amadeus" covered similar territory much more expertly back in the 1980s.

The actors hit all their marks; I offer special praise to Justin Timberlake, who actually can act. Armie Hammer does a fine job in a dual role playing the eternally, comically frustrated Winklevoss twins, who claim that Zuckerberg stole their social-media idea. The direction and cinematography were both competent. Part of the problem may be that I found it hard to relate to people who became so rich so quickly. Another part of the problem may be that Zuckerberg, as portrayed in the movie, is utterly unlikable, which may be a point the film was trying to make. Saverin, who provides the crucial social-networking algorithm at the beginning of the story (thus cementing his position as one of the founders of Facebook), is portrayed in the most sympathetic light. In the end, the story is about a bunch of screeching bitches fighting for credit and money. Ho-hum.


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