Saturday, October 2, 2010

Love: The Social Network

What is there that can be said that has not already been said about David Fincher's fanatically discussed, gigantically hyped Facebook film The Social Network?  Answer: not much.  This film had the potential to disappoint tremendously.  Trailer after trailer, poster after poster, blurb after blurb, my expectations for this particular viewing had been growing to nearly unscaleable heights for months.  Fincher's films have a tendency to do that with me.  I was going absolutely berserk pre-Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and while I am indeed amongst the comparatively small number of that film's 'friends', I was still on the underwhelmed side of that fairy tale.   It couldn't quite match up with the illustrious vision in my mind.  With The Social Network, I kept trying to remind myself that I should curb my enthusiasm; that, in spite of the lush darkness and clever quips of the trailers, the potential to be a tiresome, talkative business thriller was still there.  Ten minutes in, any concerns I had had vanished into the Trent Reznor scored ether.  Damn, I loved this movie.  I hate to be that adulating critic, but so much of The Social Network hit exactly the right points on the grand checklist of what it takes to be a movie I just unabashedly dig:  1. Cinematography: gorgeous.  2. Script: brilliant. 3. Atmosphere: I want to go to there.  4. Devilry: in abundance.  5. Fully fleshed out characters: 95%.  6. Acting: believable.  7. Smarts: high IQ.  8. A Cast That Does Not Include Mathew McConaughey: triple check.  So, you see, while the backlash on The Social Network will inevitably follow within the next couple weeks, right now, I'm just plain blindsided. 
The Social Network does not feel like "the Facebook movie" it has been talked up as being.  It does not feel like an expose (though it certainly is), it does not feel especially biased.  In fact, the story is so engrossing, it becomes quite easy to separate one's self completely from the idea that this is the truth.  In The Social Network, the reality that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are things/people in existence is not important.  Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has taken creative liberty with the truth, this much is for certain.  How much, we don't know, though I honestly can't claim to care.  While Facebook is the cold, digital little center the film revolves around, the film is more of a generational cut-throat tragicomic. Emphasis on the comic. No, really, it's pretty damn funny.

Fincher, Sorkin, and the film are relentlessly pushing away from Facebook and into the creation of memorable characters.  They're building walls of personal isolation predicated on the application of technology, painting a Dorian Gray portrait of a generation so ruthlessly ego driven that they cannot see past the exclusivity of the self created on their personal page.  Jesse Eisenberg, who I have come to trust rather implicitly as a superficial sign of a film's inherent quality, is perfect as Zuckerberg.  He plays his motor-mouthed neurosis away from awkward and firmly in the direction of  inhuman.  His eyes, in nearly every confrontational scene, are startlingly devoid of emotion.  He's a machine who looks as though he sincerely does not care whether his combatants are alive or dead. This alone is powerful stuff.  While Eisenberg is the film's steely support beam, the young actors orbiting him do just as well.  Andrew Garfield (who is also your new Spider-Man), Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, and Armie Hammer (yeah, he is the Arm & Hammer heir) are all playing exactly their part and then some, though it's Hammer who repeatedly steals his scenes with killer lines as one and a quarter (he's the digitally added head and shoulders to the body on the second ) of the surprisingly likeable, hugely privileged Winklevoss twins.
The Social Network is pure Fincher.  Where Curious Case became too sentimental, too sugary or inane for its run time, we can consider the "Facebook movie" to be a return to standard form.  This is the dark and relentless Fincher the film school kids fawn over.  The Fincher who built Fight Club, Se7en, and Zodiac out of shadows, saturated hues, unlikeable characters, human brutality, and that desperate, driving, obsessive need to push something as far as it can go.  Zuckerberg and Fincher are a perfect match, as it turns out,  though your innocent little white back-dropped Facebook page would never let you be the wiser. 

Fincher has been quoted, repeatedly now, saying that his film is "the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies." Well, yes, in fact, I have to agree that it is, though I might alter it slightly to "the Citizen Kane of Brat Pack movies" to allow for that little 80's 'teen' margin of error.  There's something compulsively watchable about The Social Network.  It's fun. Smart fun. Its subjects are young and prematurely jaded.  They deal with billion dollar issues as though they were quibbling about high school drama...and they are.  They're stunted college kids and at age 20-21, everything comes down to friendships, getting girls, and seeming cool.  This is a teen movie dressed up to the nines, playing at mature corporate warfare, and sneaking in, underage, to an adults only club.  The trappings look good, but the results bely its age.  The Social Network is like St. Elmo's Fire and Less Than Zero decided to focus their plots, combine their narcissistic brain power, and seduce everyone on the planet Earth.  So, yes, it's the Citizen Kane of nouveau Brat Pack.  What's more? It's sort of a Citizen Kane in and of itself.

While only time will tell how The Social Network is received in the history of cinema, what we can say for sure is that it is to Mark Zuckerberg and the digital age what Kane was to William Randlph Hearst and his print empire.  Both films do a spectacular job picking apart the character traits of our ambitious, media tycoons.  Both are ambitious, non-linear treasure troves of character and story.  Both are absolutely dazzling.  While we're only at the dawn of Oscar season, I'm sliding The Social Network to the top of the Academy list of surefire contenders.  If it wins, I will not be surprised. I just won't. 

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