The Social Network is an unusual film to top the North American box office and score 8.5 on the Internet Movie Database. Its subject is the founding of Facebook and you might argue that gives it 500 million potential viewers. On the other hand it has no A List stars, little in the way of obvious production values and it’s very talky. Finally, it doesn’t have an easily identifiable generic identity. It’s not a biopic since we only meet the three central ‘real’ characters over a few years with little backstory. It isn’t a drama documentary about setting up the company. As a David Fincher film, The Social Network might raise expectations of the thriller – but it isn’t so much a thriller as a legal investigation. It draws on what might be called the campus or frathouse picture and at times it is a comedy. Most of all, I guess, it is a drama about three young men – two of whom in a sense fight over the other. Of course, the lack of clear genre identity needn’t be a problem as such, but audiences need something to hold onto to help steer them through the narrative. I’d argue that what makes the film work is some excellent performances and some technically fine filmmaking – and a great script by Aaron Sorkin (at least in terms of dialogue).
Fincher keeps the narrative rollicking along and Sorkin provides the words for the exchanges. The narrative is not linear. Instead, the two legal cases brought against Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg provide the means of telling the story in a series of flashbacks edited into a complex flow of narrative information. This allows Sorkin to create layers of conflict with Zukerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) mocking the lawyers in the present and locking horns with friends and foes in the past.
My pleasure in watching the film was in the verbal exchanges (which are frenetic) and in the presentation of the rapid development of the social networking idea. I’m interested in Facebook and similar social platforms as case studies in the theory of social networking, but I’m not attracted to what they offer. I was interested in the history as I wasn’t aware of the genesis of Facebook. But I wonder how this will work with the multiplex audience – who presumably use the network but might not be so taken with the talk and the history? The initial success of the film may be down to the Fincher fanboys and the attraction of Zuckerberg as a (young) mystery celebrity billionaire. It’s clearly a film aimed at the 15-25 audience.
I see the overall narrative as flawed in several ways. First the sub-plot with the Winklevoss twins seems to belong in another movie about dim rich sports jocks. One scene was funny but most of their antics were tedious and a scene filmed at the Henley Regatta was just embarrassing. Presumably these are ‘real’ characters in the story. If so, the American legal profession must operate in a different way to anything I could imagine if they seriously thought they had a case against Zuckerberg. (They claim he stole their idea to create Facebook.)
My second concern is the lack of any substantial roles for women (or anyone over 30). I realise that with a true story, the characters are to a large extent given, but this is a problem when it pushes the film towards a specific audience segment. I have noticed some discussion about the representations of gender and race in the film and I’m intrigued to see if the film reaches a wide audience in the UK and how it appeals across the international market. At one point a lawyer in the film responds to Zuckerberg’s announcement of Facebook’s expansion with a quip that “in Bosnia they don’t have roads, but they have Facebook”!
The first part of the film buzzes with the setting up of the website and the second part with the battle between Facebook’s co-founder Eduardo Savarin (the excellent Andrew Garfield) and the Napster creator Sean Carter (Justin Timberlake, surprisingly good). Here I thought that Sorkin was rather bereft of material to work with and the narrative rather fizzled out at the end. I bet he was frustrated by the lack of a real ending.
As one poster has pointed out David Fincher has gone from the excesses of Benjamin Button onto a pointless remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with just this exercise in between. He does a good job here, but it isn’t distinctive or ‘personal’. IMDB gives the production budget of the film as $50 million and a good chunk of that must be fees for Fincher and Sorkin (and the purchase of the original book by Ben Mezrich). Apart from the pointless trip to Henley there isn’t anything here that needed to cost that kind of money. It could have been made in Europe for less than $10 million. I guess that having spent all that money Sony are trying hard to sell it.