Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Social Network (2010) Guest Review

sgwordy asked me to do a guest review for one of the most widely recognized movies of the past year: The Social Network.  And when sgwordy asks, who am I to refuse? [editor's note: well played, Dr Musacha, well played]

I resisted seeing TSN for quite some time.  First of all, I’m not a Facebooker.  I don’t “book” the “face” or whatever it is that people do on that site (find old college acquaintances and swap baby pics?).  Nothing about the trailers made the movie seem that intriguing to me.  And the word on the street is that the makers played fast and loose with the facts (“based on a true story” doesn’t mean much).  That doesn’t really bother me, and I won’t go into the details of what the movie gets wrong (a Google search will clear that up quickly), but it seems odd to watch a biopic that I know is half baloney going in.

Then a funny thing happened: everybody and their brother started talking about what a travesty it was that TSN didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture.  King’s Speech?  A cute, folksy little throwaway tale.  But TSN was supposed to be this generation defining masterpiece.  I was dubious, but my time isn’t so valuable that I can’t sacrifice a couple hours to see what all the fuss is about.

Warning: I’ll try to avoid out-and-out spoilers, but if you like to see movies completely fresh, you might want to wait until you’ve checked it out before reading.  Also, there’s a little harsh language below, though nothing too offensive I hope.

The Story in a Nutshell:
Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg is a socially inept computer whiz who, after breaking up with his girlfriend Erica, inadvertently launches a website that becomes a campus phenomenon using his hacking and programming skills.  His efforts attract the attention of Harvard’s elite (in the form of the Winklevoss twins), who conscript Zuckerberg to code for their fledgling social website.  But Mark instead teams with his best friend Eduardo to create the basis of what becomes Facebook.  The rest of the movie involves the rise of the world’s most famous social networking site superimposed with the temptation of Zuckerberg (in this case, by former Napster founder Sean Parker) away from the people who truly care, leading to his eventual fall in the form of a pair of lawsuits that form the backdrop of the film.

What Worked for Me:
* The Story Structure – For a movie ostensibly about website construction and corporate litigation, TSN plays out at a fairly rapid clip without getting bogged down in boring details.  Credit Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for focusing most of the attention on the characters themselves rather than detailing the formation of Facebook itself in too much detail.  By keeping things tight and character-oriented, the film really gives you a chance to get to know these people (as interpreted by the actors/script) so you can develop a vested interest in what happens to them.

* The Dialogue – I heard a lot about the first scene in this movie…some have suggested that it’s the best opening scene in film history.  I think that’s a ludicrous claim, but the opening is well done and establishes the main character quickly.  What it really shows is the snappy, intelligent dialogue that infuses this movie with a lot of energy.  There are a number of great and memorable lines, though one of the two best was heavily featured in the trailer (“If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.”)  The other?  The last line of the opening scene, and I won’t ruin it.

* Justin Timberlake – I never cared for his music, but Timberlake is on the brink of making my short list of actors that, in the right role, would compel me to see a movie just due to their presence.  Here he is outstanding as the slimy, spineless, conniving Sean Parker and absolutely steals every scene he’s in.  The final confrontation between him and Eduardo in the Facebook offices was so note-perfect, it was worth seeing the movie just for that.  Speaking of…

* Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin – Garfield was BY FAR the most sympathetic character in this movie (more on this in a second) and was its true protagonist in my eyes.  Without him, I doubt I would have finished TSN.  His character arc, starting from a geeky, unsure computer nerd who partners with Zuckerberg to create Facebook, only to slowly find himself being cast aside, is heartbreaking to watch.  The lawsuit involving the twins is a crock of nonsense…they contributed nothing to the formation of Facebook and are portrayed as motivated by their injured egos.  But Eduardo’s lawsuit is very personal.  His contributions to Facebook bring Eduardo respect and social acceptance…that his best friend would strip that credit away is tragic.  One gets the impression that Eduardo is less interested in money than in setting the record straight and receiving the credit he deserves.

That’s a lot that worked, but it’s strongly counterbalanced by two major strikes.

What Didn’t Work for Me:
* Zuckerberg – It’s not the portrayal.  Jessie Eisenberg does a fine job of bringing the character to life.  And it’s not anything about Zuckerberg’s story, which is plenty compelling.  The problem is that Zuckerberg (the movie version…I’m not familiar enough to comment on the real life person) is a complete jackass.  This movie owes its roots to 80’s style films where a nerdy guy with a heart of gold starts out unpopular but wins the respect of everyone when he demonstrates what a swell person he is.  But Zuckerberg is not a swell person…he’s an unsympathetic jerk with a caustic personality from the very start.  There’s not much of a character arc to speak of, no great life lesson learned, no personal growth or maturation, not really even a background that would explain why Zuckerberg holds everyone around himself in such contempt…it’s the story of a talented asshole who invents something cool and treats everyone he knows like crap.  That’s the lion’s share of the movie, and your enjoyment of TSN will hinge on whether you can get personally involved in something like that.

* The Sexism…my God, the Sexism – If you’re a believer that all of human civilization is fueled by the increasingly elaborate efforts of men to impress the opposite sex, thus marginally increasing their chances at being granted access to their lady parts, then you and your caveman sensibilities will definitely enjoy TSN.  Now let me say upfront that I’m not some oversensitive, hippy drippy whiner baby who gets offended at the drop of a hat, but the treatment of women in this film is disgusting by any objective standard.  According to TSN, women are not people, but rather trophies with breasts that can be acquired through advancement in the social and financial worlds.  No woman ever contributed in any meaningful way to the rise of Facebook, though there were plenty around to give lap dances as a reward for success.  And remember, most of the women involved in this movie (at least at the beginning) are students at Harvard.  So apparently the country’s most respected academic institution has a student body comprised of male geniuses and female arm candy.  Nice.  In retrospect, I notice a lot of these “Social Network got robbed at the Oscars!” articles came from young to middle aged male internet writers, none of whom bothered to mention the misogynistic undertones of the film.

The Verdict:
The Social Network did a lot right.  The screenplay and direction were excellent, the narrative is about as compelling as the source material would allow, and there are a couple classic characters in here.  But the main plot is a character study of an unapologetic douche bag, which is going to get tiresome for many viewers before the film is complete.  And I don’t see how a film that was “robbed” of Best Picture can be more blatantly sexist than most teenage sex romp comedies.  If you’re a 25 year old hipster who is entirely convinced that you’re part of the most clever generation to walk the earth, then you’ll love this movie to death.  On the other hand, if you’ve got a modicum of sense in your head then the best case scenario is you’ll find it to be a well-written, well-directed flick with some glaring flaws.  Best Picture it is NOT.

Many thanks to Dr Musacha for his guest reviews. His real name might not be Musacha, but Dr is his real title. If you're interested in other ways the Doctor spends his time when not unraveling the secrets near and dear to a cardiologist's heart (ha!), check out The Doctor and the Dude Show. You can also find him here and here.


  1. Great review! I believe you nailed everything about the film that my wife and I enjoyed and griped about. My wife very much thought its misogynistic tone off-putting, even though she loves Sorkin's dialogue (we're long-time West Wing fans). TSN was very watchable, just not very agreeable. I can see the vibe you speak of driving a lot the early Best Picture nods (Facebook seems so prevalent these days across the social network and internet platforms).

    I think we came away with surprise with Timberlake and Garfield's work here. Both were great in their roles. Fincher is damn good director, but its hard for me to feel any warmth toward his work (that's not a flaw, mind you, but it does seem to be the style of his films). I very much enjoyed reading this guest review. I sincerely hope there's more coming. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, le0pard13.

    You mentioned that your wife loves Sorkin's diaglogue but was put off by the sexism. That puts me in mind of the most wasted opportunity in the film: HERE COME SPOILERS!

    The one female character that had a real chance to make an impact in this film was Erica. In the opening scene, Erica is clearly holding her own with Zuckerberg. She easily detects his condescending attitude and dumps him for it, plus she's perceptive enough to sum up his character in one scathing final comment (my favorite line in the movie, by the way). Sorkin's dialogue really sizzles here, as Erica comes off as intelligent, independent, and a good judge of character.

    And then...she pretty much disappears. There's a brief scene with her later, which I interpreted as evidence that even though Zuckerberg has created something as impressive as Facebook, he still can't have what he really wants.

    For the movie to establish a strong, intelligent female character right at the beginning, then lose her immediately and not have anything more than eye candy the rest of the way was a big loss.

    "TSN was very watchable, just not very agreeable."

    Amen, brother! Incredibly well put...

  3. Thanks for the great review, Jeff!

    And I really enjoyed the extra comments re the movie posted here. I haven't seen it (I'm not that interested in the story or the misogyny) and this info has made me feel confident in my decision to skip this one. I'm still interested in what it is that appealed to so many people so this was very nice for me.

  4. I just love any review where you can fit in a phrase like "oversenstive, hippy drippy whiner baby." =)

  5. He's got skilz hasn't he?