Posted November 18, 2010 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

The Social Network: Is Facebook Really That Interesting?

“The Social Network,” the new film from music-video helmsman turned film director David Fincher (Madonna’s “Vogue” video, “Fight Club,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), is a moderately enjoyable entertainment about moderately interesting subject matter. It tells the story of the creation of Facebook, today’s most popular social-networking website, by a group of Harvard undergrads in 2003-4.

Sure, Facebook is astoundingly popular, with approximately 500 million members, but is the social-networking phenomenon really that interesting? Cell phones are even more popular. Do we envision movies about the development of cell phones? Full disclosure: your reviewer has a Facebook page and posts status updates on it two or three times a month. I also glance at my friends’ status updates to keep abreast of their life developments. What’s so interesting about that? People posting tidbits about themselves to stay connected with each other in between phone calls. Seems pretty ordinary to me.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (of “West Wing” fame) appears to think the creation of Facebook is fascinating, given that he devoted countless hours to adapting a screenplay from Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book, “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal.” But oddly enough, nothing in the script indicates what Sorkin finds so interesting. It’s a rather dull, by-the-numbers script, following the hackneyed conventions of its genre. To suss out the tabloid level of Mezrich’s journalism, all you have to do is look at the subtitle of his book: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius! (There’s no sex, by the way. It appears that this was simply thrown in to sell the book.)

The film’s opening sequence, with rapid-fire dialogue between Facebook visionary and former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend at the time, gives the impression that the movie is going to be a complex drama with multiple layers of social criticism. Not so. The movie quickly turns into a standard melodrama about a creative team coming together and then falling apart. “The Social Network” would fit right in on The Lifetime Channel or TBS. The deepest point the film makes is that Zuckerberg was socially alienated.

Zuckerberg is the lead character, played adequately by Jesse Eisenberg (“Zombieland,” “Adventureland”). Also featured are several of Zuckerberg’s Harvard cohorts, including Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Zuckerberg eventually comes into contact with Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster (a supporting role played dazzlingly by Justin Timberlake), who encourages the team to dream bigger. Predictably, the bond between Zuckerberg and Parker makes Saverin jealous. A considerable amount of time is spent contrasting the business strategies of Saverin and Parker. Saverin wants to court advertisers; Parker wants to court venture capitalists. I kept asking myself, Who cares about commercial strategies? Often “The Social Network” felt more like a feature article in the Wall Street Journal than a film.

In addition to the overall thinness of the material, there is the problem of dramatic structure. Fincher tells the story largely in flashback. As an example, a scene will depict a legal deposition, with Saverin’s legal team peppering Zuckerberg with questions. A painfully hackneyed editing approach is then used to cross-cut between the legal interrogation and flashbacks of the events being discussed. It’s hard to believe that a major filmmaker like Fincher would employ a technique so ordinary. It was so conventional as to be yawn-inducing within the first half-hour. This approach to dramatic structure also eliminated the possibility of surprise because the viewer knows from the start where the characters are going to end up: in a legal dispute. It also is amazing how many scenes of legal depositions there are in the film. Lawyers sitting around a table are not exactly the stuff of great drama.

And “The Social Network” is not great cinema. It lies limp on the screen for the most part, coming most alive at the rare times when Timberlake is on screen. When will Timberlake get the lead role he deserves?

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.