David Fincher’s “The Social Network” Eloquently Defines A Generation

I started college in August of 2004 at the University of California, Berkeley. At that point Facebook was only at a handful of universities, Cal being one of them. In September 2004 the first of several lawsuits were filed against Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. At that point everyone I knew at college, which was not many people, had a Facebook profile. Actually it was still called “The Facebook” in the URL. I shared this story because having been through practically all the changes Facebook has gone through in the last six years, made watching David Fincher’s new film The Social Network like reliving college all over again. There were so many little things, Eisenberg on his LiveJournal among others, that made me have little tinges of nostalgia for a time that isn’t really even all that long ago. I was sort of amazed that Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin were able to capture the essence of my generation, an essence I have been trying to explain to my father for years now, so effortlessly while themselves being so removed from it. Really though, Fincher is so good a recreating eras it’s not all that surprising.

Minor spoilers after the cut.

So far this year this is one of only a few films that I most definitely would call Best Picture quality. It was perfectly written, directed, acted and paced. I find it kind of odd that it’s being billed as a drama. I understand that it is sort of part biopic, part courtroom – or rather deposition room – drama, but I found myself laughing more often than anything during the film. And not in the “it’s so bad I’m laughing” kind of way or the “this is so over the top ridiculous” kind of way, but in a genuine “this is truly funny and real like life” kind of way. I also really loved the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, it’s not like anything I’ve heard in awhile, but it really fit the tone of the film. I could easily see this film being nominated for Best Picture, Director, Editing, Screenplay, Score – if it’s not too out there for the kind of stuffy music branch of the Academy – and at least two, if not more acting nominations.

I truly think Jesse Eisenberg is one of the finest actors of his generation and I am so hoping he will finally get himself an Oscar nomination. I’ve seen several of his films – I’d highly recommend Roger Dodger, The Squid and The Whale and Adventureland. His performance in this film is the greatest performance I’ve seen so far this year. He’s playing this really despicable character – which I feel I need to point out is probably an exaggeration of the real Zuckerberg, don’t ever confuse real life people with their film counterparts, children! – and he manages to make you not only understand why he did the horrible things he’s done, but also at the very end of the film you almost feel sorry for him. Eisenberg’s line delivery is so perfect from start to finish, but he also does a lot with his eyes – something I always love to see in a performance. My favorite scene with him is when one of the lawyers in one of the – many – lawsuits featured in the film asks him if he has his full attention. His response puts the lawyer squarely in his place and is delivered with such a perfect mixture of confidence and disdain that you can’t help but  think “burrrrn” in your head. I saw Eisenberg on Letterman a few days ago and he said he felt it was important to relate, to feel sympathy for the character you’re portraying. I think it is because of that idea that Eisenberg creates a version of Zuckerberg that you can’t fully hate. Armond White said in his review that he thought the film was glorifying villainy, I don’t think that’s the case. I think what White felt for the character, was that little bit of sympathy that Eisenberg imbued the character, and really instead of vilifying the film and it’s actors he should have realized that he reacted to the film the way he did because of Eisenberg’s astounding performance.

Andrew Garfield has two Oscar-bait roles this year. One as Tommy in the sci-fi literary adaptation Never Let Me Go, which I’ve yet to see, but from the trailer alone it appears he’s kills it in that film. The other is as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. I think based on name recognition alone, Garfield has the best bet on getting a nomination in the Best Supporting Actor race from this film. Once upon a time in Oscar history it was really common for multiple supporting nominations to come from one film. Now if it happens it’s usually in the Supporting Actress race. Both The Departed and Milk had multiple actors worthy of a nomination, but each film only yielded one nomination. I’d say there are at least three performances worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination out of this film. I loved Garfield’s portrayal of Saverin. He could have really milked the revenge aspect of the character, but instead he focused on the hurt Zuckerberg caused and it’s this hurt we see in his eyes that make his performance so outstanding. We also witness him get swept up in something he doesn’t really understand, something that’s moving so fast he isn’t able to keep up. His is really the most heartbreaking performance in the film.

I was really impressed by Armie Hammer’s duel performances as twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. (Fincher had Josh Pence act as a body double when both twins are on screen at the same time.) This was definitely one of the best duel performances I’ve seen in awhile. Each twin has his own distinct personality and Hammer plays them both with gusto. I’m still not sure which is which, but my favorite of the two is the one who is a “proper Harvard gentleman.” It was kind of quaint to see a man who still had old school manners, in a world where those manners are almost complete obsolete. The other one was fun as well though, and had some of the best lines in the movie. My favorite scene with the Winklevoss twins was when they went to see the president of Harvard, an old man who clearly did not understand the value of the intellectual property they claim was stolen. It was a great way of showing the gap between this new generation and those so far removed from it.

Part of me really wants Justin Timberlake to get the Best Supporting Actor nomination, that same part wants him to win so he can be 2/3 of the way to being an EGOT. He was really wonderful in this film as Sean Parker, the man who founded Napster and later helped Zuckerberg bring Facebook to Silicon Valley. He’s got a breezy charm to him, a showmanship that really fits the character perfectly. He also delivers the best line in the whole, the line that defines both the film and the world as we know it. While at a party celebrating Facebook’s 1 millionth member, Timberlake’s character is excitedly talking about how big this site could be in the scheme of the world and says “First people lived in villages, then they lived in cities – now they’re going to live on the internet.” The truth of that statement resounded through my brain throughout the rest of the film and pretty much has been stuck there ever since. As someone who pretty much lives on the internet, in the sense that 99% of my friends are on the internet, my fellow film colleagues are on the internet, etc, etc. Facebook really was the site the revolutionized social networking, online friendships, etc. Twitter, Tumblr, all those other social networking sites exist because of what Zuckerberg, et al accomplished, whether they stole the idea or no.

Rooney Mara’s character Erica Albright gets the second best line in the film, in the very first scene of the film. In the opening scene, talking a mile a minute, Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg manages to insult Mara’s Albright so deeply that she not only dumps him on the spot, but also delivers a stinging truism that sticks with Zuckerberg until the very last frame of the film. Right before she leaves, she says to him, “You’re going to go through life thinking that girl’s don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.” Later on in the film, after the Facebook is beginning to be a success, though not huge yet, Zuckerberg runs into Albright again and tries to brag, but before he can even get the words out of his mouth she shuts him down utterly and completely, ending the conversation with “good luck with your video game or whatever.” What’s so wonderful about her in the film is how secure she is with herself, how confident she is and how unimpressed she is with Zuckerberg once she knows his true colors.

Though I’ve never seen her in any of her Disney-related roles, knowing that for the most part all Brenda Song had been in prior to this film were such uber-family oriented roles, I was rather impressed by her performance in the film. Although the crazy girlfriend is sort of a film staple, her performance as Saverin’s groupie-turned girlfriend Christy Lee was anything but cliched. She also had a line that really hammered in the changes in the real world that were created by the advent of Facebook. Right before setting the fire pictured above she accuses Garfield’s Saverin of cheating on her while he was away and then berates him because his Facebook relationship status still says “single.” Saverin says he set up his profile before they met and he doesn’t know how to change it, to which Lee responds, “you’re the CFO of Facebook and you don’t know how to change your relationship status?” The scene both shows the impact Facebook made on the world at large, but also highlights how easy it is to be left behind.

So far the film has a 97% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes after 162 positive reviews. It also has a 97% rating on MetaCritic. Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine also gave the film four out of four stars, the only film to receive a full four-star rating from the critic all year. I think as long as the hype holds strong throughout the fall and the film receives nominations at the Golden Globes it’s got a strong chance of being nominated, if not winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards next March.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on October 2, 2010, in Contenders, Review and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I was really impressed by two things in this film: 1) Justin Timberlake and 2) the score. And although the line you singled out as the best really is the best in the film, I can’t find anything particularly profound (or new) in the sentiment. I think here I come to the biggest problem I had with the movie: Sorkin’s script things it’s smart and incisive and it really isn’t. The movie progresses from college dorm to California apartment to expansive Facebook headquarters (intercutting with endless boardroom scenes); Zuckerberg’s character trajectory is linear and as old as time (but we’re denied any ‘rags to riches’ satisfaction–it’s hard to feel sorry for any of these characters coming from the privileged halls of Harvard). Where is the “newness” and the generation defining mood of this film? It gets nothing about life on the Internet right. There is barely even an attempt to convey the earth-shattering, psychology-bending impact of Facebook or social media. These young men have money, they invent something (writing code isn’t exciting and it isn’t made exciting by the filmmakers), they party, they burn-out, they sue or get sued, and wind up with even more money. I really, really tried, but I couldn’t care about any of it.

    And Fincher, who usually delivers gorgeous visuals, seems not to know what to do with the spaces here. Too many scenes are awash in an ugly yellowish-green tint, so much so that the characters’ faces are distractingly inhuman-looking. I’d expect this kind of cheap tinting from Tony Scott, but from Fincher it was a real disappointment.

    I did enjoy seeing Zuckerberg on livejournal, though. That was kind of a nice moment. Drunk and blogging–who hasn’t been there?

  2. Hi Marya –

    I liked your column about The Social Network. Very well done. For me reading quotes from the film along with their context tells me how serious you are about the review process as well as understanding the filkm itself.

    Once again, keep up the good work. And Thanks

    http://jmmnewaov2.wordpress.com/ AKA The Arts

  3. I thought it was rude that you said Armie Hammer did all the acting for the twins. I think the guy who did that should get some credits.

    • I did mention the other actor as well, Josh Pence, but when I wrote this I didn’t know exactly how much Pence had done, acting-wise, rather than just being a stand-in. I’ve read a few articles now about how much Pence actually did and it’s quite impressive.

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