Review: The Social Network Shines

The Social Network is a good film, disguised as a great one, brought to you from the minds of geniuses, to tell the story of a troubled (or at least anti-social) genius.

However, we're not going to let that raft of complexity get us down, we're going to power through this like we were The Pointer Sisters. Why? Because The Social Network is an enjoyable watch. You'll empathize with Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, then you'll find yourself astounded by his lack of empathy, before finally coming away impressed by what a consistent jerk he's portrayed as against the pulsating beat of a near perfect musical score from Trent Reznor.

In the minor quibble department the tagline presented here is a lie. "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies" is a complete distortion of the theme of the film, which is itself a distortion of reality. Zuckerberg doesn't have 500 million friends, heck the movie is keen to point out he doesn't have any friends, and he has more than a "few" enemies. But my guess is he does have friends, as even Oscar the Grouch has friends, folks who come to visit him in his garbage home. So the poster doesn't gibe, and as such we must deem the tagline as marketing run amok, like me throwing out "You can't write a 1000 word review without making a few cups of coffee!" This might be technically true, but it's spiritually devoid of value.

Anyway, let's not get bogged down in marketing. Or veracity, as The Social Network seems to be far more "truthy" than accurate. Fine, fine, it's a drama, and to its credit it never bothers with the "based on a true story" tagline, so it can always claim to be getting at the truth through a few well placed lies.

What's impressive and praise-worthy about The Social Network is the rare look it takes at the genesis of ideas. The film, directed by David Fincher and Written by Aaron Sorkin, is keen to point out that Zuckerberg's big breakthroughs came only after he paired multiple ideas (from multiple sources) together. But there's wiggle room on all sides of the equation. Just as soon as you say "well, Zuckerberg clearly stole that aspect" you'll find yourself counter-arguing "but the other guy couldn't have brought the idea to life, regardless." In The Social Network Mark Zuckerberg is the misunderstood genius, a guy who doesn't care about money or friendship so much as he cares about doing something cool. In a way it's no surprise that the preeminent social networking site came from the brain of an introvert -- a truly social person wouldn't have hours upon hours to plod away on coding in silence.

On the acting front everyone is universally good, with a few exceptional standouts. All three male leads, Justin Timberlake, Jesse Eisenberg, and Andrew Garfield are pitch perfect. Timberlake in particular stands out as the hippest man on Earth, and Garfield brings a strength to his take on former Facebook C.E.O. Eduardo Saverin, a difficult proposition given how clueless the character comes off in key scenes.

The film I was most reminded of during the two hours I spent with The Social Network was A Few Good Men. That was another film that made each glance feel important, each singular piano chord a potential source of dread. The Facebook creation myth doesn't carry the emotional weight of Private Santiago's death to provide impact, but The Social Network is keen to make most scenes in the film feel profoundly important. That the movie never delves into the sticky issues of our day; privacy, our persona going completely online, and the the sort of society that's spawned from a 24/7 "know about your pals!" mentality can't be fully held against it. These fellas went out and made the film they were trying to make, and it's often funny and generally captivating.

The goal of The Social Network is merely entertainment paired up with a healthy degree of difficulty. It's not everyday you see a graceful story about an Internet start-up so it's probably best just to enjoy the laughs and insights presented. The rest of those pesky issues will be handled by someone smart, at some other time, in a place that looks a lot like this.

Grade: A-