By Elena Cresci
How do you turn a social phenomenon into a feature film? Director David Fincher attempts to do just that with The Social Network. The film, simply put, tells the story of Facebook, the social networking website that needs no introduction. Adapted from Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, the film dramatises the creation of Facebook and its rise to notoriety as the website that barely anyone can live without.
At first glance, the entire premise of a film about Facebook seems entirely laughable. While Facebook is a massive cultural phenomenon that has gone from defining University life to being a large part of the way in which we conduct our lives online, it’s difficult to see how a blockbuster film can come from a website that, in essence, is a way many people waste their time. Unless you’re a fan of sitting down to watch someone browse Facebook for two hours straight, it hardly seems like the most thrilling of material. The biggest problem facing both director and screenwriter is that, in reality, watching a couple of tech-savvies furiously code for nights on end does not a compelling film make.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin clearly had his work cut out for him, and it’s clear that major liberties have been taken with the facts of the Facebook story. The Accidental Billionaires’ subtitle was, after all, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. What little comment the Facebook founders have made about the film have been to maintain that the events culminating in the creation of Facebook weren’t nearly as exciting as those portrayed on the big screen. Even from the film’s tagline, ‘You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies’, the audience can see that The Social Network was never intended to waste time on factual accuracy, instead preferring to enhance the drama as much as possible. The Social Network is the Facebook story, Hollywood style.
Many of the plot’s details are already familiar to us; after all, with more than 500 million active Facebook users, it’s safe to say that most people know of Mark Zuckerberg. The film’s opening scenes depict Zuckerberg’s girlfriend breaking up with him, leading to the creation of Facebook’s precursor, ‘Facemash’, a site designed to rate the attractiveness of Harvard females. The popularity of the site leads Zuckerberg to consider transporting college life online in the form of an innovative new website named ‘thefacebook’. Scenes from the depositions for two separate lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg are used as a framing device throughout the film; essentially a blow-by-blow account of the founding of Facebook is being told through these depositions, which is effectively used as a structuring device for the progress of the story.
Any initial qualms about the viability of a film about Facebook are appeased with the opening scene between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend. The dialogue is snappy, humorous and entertaining, and this quality does not falter throughout the film. Supporting the quality dialogue is a talented ensemble cast portraying members of Facebook’s founding team, with Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker of Napster fame. Eisenberg’s performance is notable in particular; he does an excellent job of portraying a genius savant yet socially awkward Zuckerberg, whose drive and ambition to succeed is evident throughout the film. Despite his character being a late arrival in the plot, Timberlake’s performance stands out, while Garfield does well to portray Saverin’s animosity towards Parker, creating an interesting dynamic between the two actors. More interesting still is the chemistry between Garfield and Eisenberg, whose bittersweet friendship marked with rivalry is evident throughout.
The juxtaposition of Harvard scenes of Zuckerberg and Saverin as best friends working on an exciting project with bitter scenes of an impending court battle add a great deal to the overall trajectory of the film. The ease of the cuts between the different settings really are a credit to David Fincher, and introduce the developing aspects of the plot without reverting to tediousness. Accompanying all of this is an excellent soundtrack scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which provides the perfect tone for a film about people caught up in an entirely novel phenomenon.
Overall, the film is highly entertaining and does well to prove initial doubters wrong. Unfortunately certain aspects of the plot, such as the sub-plot concerning the Winklevoss twins, drag a little, and the over-dramatisation of real life can sometimes seem ridiculous. While Fincher clearly concerns himself with telling an interesting rather than a factual story, The Social Network demonstrates how translating real-life events onto the big screen can often be problematic when the reality is not nearly as interesting as the Hollywood version, not to mention that the people portrayed in the film can, and have, claim their falseness through interviews and, appropriately, via the internet.
Considering this, there’s no way that a completely factual Facebook film would have garnered the praise and audiences that The Social Network has in its opening week, so choosing to go the Hollywood route has clearly proven lucrative for those behind the film. At the end of the day, Facebook is a phenomenon that cannot go ignored, and it’s probably about time it turned up on the big screen: thank goodness it’s in an incarnation as slick and well-done as The Social Network. It does make you wonder if a Hollywood treatment of the Farmville story is on its way though…
8 OUT OF 10
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