It’s easy to forget that at it’s heart, the movie-making industry is about telling a story. If you’re lucky, it’s a good one. But in these days of big budget special effects, big name casts, and 3-D – it’s easy for the story to get lost in amongst all of the bells and whistles. Sometimes the shiny things cover up a mediocre story (see: Avatar) while in other cases, the big budget effects are there to cover for the fact there’s hardly any store to begin with (see: The Expendables). And sometimes this is ok. We’re not always going to be in the mood for a thought provoking drama or a tear jerking heart-breaker.
But in a year that has been dominated by the buzz word of 3-D, it’s good to see that a good movie can still be made without a multi million dollar budget or a cast of superstars. When you look at The Social Network you’re seeing movie-making at its most basic. There’s a cast of actors, there’s a script, and the two are put together by a talented director to tell a story. Seems simple, right?
The Social Network, for those not in the know, is a semi factual telling of how the phenomenon of Facebook came to exist. From its humble beginnings as The Facebook as it was run from a Harvard dorm room to its status today as one of the most globally influential and well known brands to have ever existed on or off of the World Wide Web. At face value, you might wonder how this story could be interesting. After all, nerds coding a website hardly make for a glamorous or enjoyable movie-going experience.
But the creation of Facebook hasn’t been as smooth as the average user of the site might think. This is a story of betrayal at its most basic level – of how a friendship can be completely and utterly ruined by the simple motivations of greed and jealousy. I won’t say that the story hasn’t been embellished considerably to make it more appealing to the theatre-going public. There’s more beautiful girls and parties that your average website developer sees in a life time, a healthy dose of seemingly off the cuff wit that you know doesn’t exist in real life, and the borderline evil portrayal of Napster designer Sean Parker by Justin Timberlake. It’s safe to say that the design of Facebook wasn’t quite as glamorous as David Fincher portrays it, but we can perhaps forgive them a few artistic liberties.
What really makes this story work, beyond a little artistic license and the vision of the man who directed classics such as Se7en and Fight Club, is that the cast has been picked on its merits rather than its marketability. The most well known member of the cast is a musician (Justin Timberlake) showing that he might just be one of the most talented men in Hollywood as he produces a delightfully slimy performance that has you leaving the theatre wishing Napster still existed so you could boycott it. Jesse Eisenberg, who most will recognize from Zombieland and Adventureland, has been compared in the past to Michael Cera – but he shows in this film that he has substantially bigger acting chops than the Arrested Development star. Eisenberg produces a grimly tortured, sardonic, and misanthropic performance that leaves you feeling more than a little bad for the youngest billionaire in the world. Sure, he’s rich beyond his wildest dreams, but he doesn’t exactly cut the figure of a happy-go-lucky playboy.
Soon to be Spiderman, Andrew Garfield plays perhaps the only truly likable character in the movie – which is no doubt due to the fact he was a consultant when the script was written. Garfield’s acting stock is sure to sky rocket with his imminent stint in the red suit, but he showcases his considerable talents as the unfortunate victim on Facebook’s road from start up company to global icon. Armie Hammer also does a brilliant job playing not one, but two college jocks who Zuckerberg may or may not have defrauded on the way to making his billions.
It’s a simple set of ingredients really. A talented director, a cast of talented actors, and a script that tells a story without getting too bogged down in the trivialities of the truth. In a movie that is ostensibly about website developers and a court case over who gets the credit for creating Facebook – you never once glance at your watch or wonder when the next shot of a pretty girl will pop up on your screen. You’re sucked in by Eisenberg’s detached brilliance, Garfield’s slow realization that he is being forced out of the company he helped build, and Timberlake’s predatory arrogance as he plays the villain of the whole piece.
With its sympathetic portrayl of Zuckerberg, it’s hard to believe that he sought to distance himself from the film. If what we’re shown is to be believed, Zuckerberg is the classic example of how money can’t buy happiness. From the very opening scene, in which a young Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) is dumped after accidentally insulting his girlfriend while ranting about wanting to be in a finals club, it’s clear that he is a man who wants so desperately to belong that he loathes the things he cannot belong to. He wants the beautiful girlfriend and the love of his peers, but since he’s too socially awkward to earn it, he instead hates the things he aspires to be.
Anybody who has ever been outside of the winner’s circle can perhaps relate to this feeling – that contradiction of wanting something and hating it because you can’t have it. And it’s this sympathetic portrayal that makes the movie so accessible. You spend the movie trying to decide whether you want Zuckerberg to triumph over the people trying to take his billions or whether you want Saverin to get the money he deserved.
And that is good story telling. We may never know the whole truth of the sordid conception of Facebook – but Fincher and his cast have given us the option of making up our minds for ourselves. Is Zuckerberg a misunderstood billionaire who just needs a hug or is he a self obsessed misanthrope? Regardless of which way you lean, you’ll come out of the movie wondering how many other foundation stories are as interesting as that of Facebook. More than that, you’ll come out wondering how a movie of two hours managed to hold your attention without a single explosion or recognizable actor.