07 October 2010

Filmbook: "The Social Network" (2010)

The most interesting tidbit I read around the David Fincher-directed, Aaron Sorkin-scripted adaptation of Ben Mezrich's 2009 book THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES was that Fincher and Sorkin were not regular Facebook users. This can no longer be excused by their generation, considering that it's the most popular social networking site among the 46 percent of boomers who use such sites (source: Mashable). Possibly they choose not to use it so they can actually get things done, things like directing Oscar-winning movies and writing critically acclaimed if canceled TV shows. (Jesse Eisenberg also said in an interview he doesn't use it. Jesse, your pants are on fire.)

Armed with that information I went into "The Social Network" fearing it would be at best a little off-base about the role of Facebook in the lives of its users, and at worst hilariously off-base in the TV docu-drama format. ("Are your children Facebooking? Right now??!??!") In the end, Sorkin and Fincher played to their relative strengths and made a movie about primarily the man, and to a lesser extent the men, involved in the creation of Facebook. Still, in the final scene, which I will not spoil, there's a snapshot of the user experience which you'll either find embarrassingly on the nose, or perfect. I thought it was perfect.

It's too early to tell, and I won't venture to guess, whether "The Social Network" is the best movie of the year. But there's something so exciting about seeing a movie that spools out in your (my) lifetime, in your (my) common environment. I didn't go to Harvard but I was hanging out there, and in places like that, at the time Zuckerberg was dropping out and moving to Silicon Valley. A special correspondent to this blog reminded me that I was the one who got him to join Facebook when we got it on our campus. (Six years later, still signing up for new blinky things! And proselytizing!) I kept thinking of the first line of Bret Easton Ellis's recent novel IMPERIAL BEDROOMS: "They made a movie about us."

And after all the rumors that "The Social Network" was a complete takedown of its boy-wonder CEO, I was surprised to find that as unethical and potentially thieving and shifty as I found Zuckerberg (in Eisenberg's portrayal), I was coming around to identifying with his fictional portrayal in all his status-obsessed feverish all-nighter carelessness. Granted, Sorkin had two characters at his disposal that would be too implausible if they weren't already real in "the Winklevi" -- the snotty tall WASPY crew team members accustomed to throwing their weight around -- who were easy to vilify. But it becomes a very complex portrait. It made me think, and that alone, I am sorry to say, boots it to the top drawer of movies I'll see this year.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as frustrated as the factual inconsistencies between the real story and the book AND movie as the rest of the world, but I was still thoroughly entertained by this movie. I thought the acting was much stronger than I had been led to believe, particularly Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg's best friend and original business partner Eduardo Saverin (whose interviews formed the core of Mezrich's book, which calls his portrait into question... rabbit hole approaching...).
In fact over the end credits I found myself actively wishing it were a little longer and covered a little more history.

"The Social Network" is more of a movie than what I expected, whereas
THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES is just about the book I expected it to be, but really no better. If Mezrich (of BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE fame) hadn't gotten to this material first, someone else would have, and some say David Kirkpatrick's THE FACEBOOK EFFECT is actually better. But Kirkpatrick had Zuckerberg's cooperation, which dims his star a little. And Mezrich being first, even if incorrect on micro and some macro levels, means that we won't get a movie called "The Social Network Effect." (Well, maybe in 25 years when the remake cycle has sped up enough.)

The movie is smarter and better put together than Mezrich's book, but more importantly, the book didn't become a conversation topic.
I've had more substantive conversations about "The Social Network" than I have about any other movie this year -- yes Virginia, including "Inception." (And I realize I'm not a fair test case because I toil in the Internets now, but I think this will bear out for other people.) It matters less, although I'm dying to know, what its creators saw in it to make. I'm glad they made the effort.

Filmbook verdict: If you're only going to do one, see the movie. (Wow, and recommending that on my book blog... it is a funny feeling.) If you're going to do both you might as well read the book first. And as long as you're at the movies, there's a documentary about social networking called "Catfish" which makes an excellent companion piece to "The Social Network" -- but where was I, I have some reading to do.


Elizabeth said...

In my circle of acquaintances, no one will shut up about "Inception", but I don't think I've heard "The Social Network" mentioned once. Maybe it just needs more time to percolate.

(I'd want to spend more time talking about "The Kids Are All Right", but it seems like Morgan and I are the only people who saw it.)

Ellen said...

I saw it! We can talk about it!