Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Social Network [Review]

I’m going to assume, for the purposes of this review, that you, like most of society, have a Facebook account. It is a curious coincidence that The Social Network, a film based on the prototypical example of precisely that - and its troublesome inception - suits its subject as a metaphor so well.

Take, for instance, the characters. At some point in your Facebook history, you’ll undoubtedly have gone through your ‘friends’ list on a mass genocide of contacts, effortlessly removing people from your virtual life with the click of a cross in an all too easy process. Now imagine, at the start of the day, your friends list compiles solely of the cast of The Social Network. One hundred and twenty minutes later, and you’ll soon be known as the loveable loser with just one friend. That friend is Andrew Garfield; here playing Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, he’s David Fincher’s only character you won’t grow to detest in some form or another by the closing credits.

Of course, it must be conceded that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had very little room to manoeuvre. Based on a true story, The Social Network is replete with the limitations you might expect of any such film; while some creative license is obligatory, Sorkin could have put it to far better use than simply to draw apathy or even contempt for the majority of the cast. You’ll leave the cinema (lounge?) not knowing what to feel; even Garfield’s character only manages to draw feelings of pity and the less sympathetic viewer might discard his role much in the way his colleagues manage to throughout the course of the film. While an interesting concept, this leaves the audience unsure of their position, and while normally this might result in cries of intellect and ingenuity deep in the script, here it belies such presumptions to the end that it might not warrant another view to understand, but will certainly leave you confused and disoriented.

If you’ve ever sat and stared at your Facebook profile, longingly hoping you could inspire some ounce of colour in its bland features, you might feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu in the visuals of The Social Network. Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography hastens to reflect the apparently melancholy milieu of Harvard University; browns and greys spatter across the lens in a sea of haze and despair. Perhaps an act of pathetic fallacy, but one that complements a bitter mise-en-scene that furthers the audience’s bewilderment to the approach and resulting tone of the film.

It would not be unwise to assume that there also exists a point in your life where you might have read through your news feed only to ponder why your virtual acquaintances feel the need to inform you of every minute detail of their lives, no matter how mundane it might be. When watching The Social Network, similar feelings of apathy are apparent not only in the characters and cinematography, but equally so in the story. To explain: Todorov’s theory of equilibrium appears not applicable here. There is no clear resolution; instead, a film rife with bland and aggravating characters - who spend most of their time enjoying extravagant lifestyles at the cost of one another in an equally bland and uninspired story - ultimately fizzles out into an abrupt and nonsensical ending. A few facts are levelled at the reader through the use of titles with the outcome of the concurrent court cases that run alongside the main plot, telling the story. It’s almost as if Fincher ran out of time or money and simply decided to resort to a literal storybook (or news feed?) ending - reading words off a page (or in this case, screen).

Allow us to leave the Facebook metaphors aside for a moment, however, to consider the acting standard of The Social Network. Far and away outside the entirety of the crew’s efforts, the majority of the cast put in performances that alone might make The Social Network almost worthy of its hefty pile of awards - but almost is the key term here. Jesse Eisenberg is suitably socially awkward; the film opens with a lengthy conversation between Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, played by Eisenberg, and his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend, who proceeds to dump him for his apparent superiority complex. In this first scene alone Eisenberg displays what I assume are all the qualities of Zuckerberg himself - though I wouldn’t expect to see Mark in a film anytime soon, judging by the staleness of his character. Eisenberg makes the most of what he is given, but it’s Garfield as Saverin and Justin Timberlake’s surprising turn as Napster founder Sean Parker that steal the limelight in the acting field, as the pitiful pushover and crafty consultant, respectively. Combined with a stellar supporting cast, The Social Network’s actors and actresses make for a formidable force in a somewhat under-par film.

Because while the acting quality might be up to scratch, much less can be said of the production itself - and this is inexcusable in a plot that’s already so marred with difficulty. Fincher’s choice to adapt such a tale of animosity and acrimony was the first mistake; Sorkin and Cronenweth’s representations of the personas and locales merely the icing on the cake. Whilst you might argue - and I am sure to find arguments in The Social Network’s legions of fans falling over each other to heap Oscars and BAFTAs on its already laden plate - that labelling a true story as ‘uninspired’ is in itself nonsensical, it is simply in reference to its suitability for the cinematic world (insofar as its complete lack of). Intending to impact, enlighten and stimulate a response from its audience, but succeeding merely in showcasing a fine set of acting talents, The Social Network is an exercise in storytelling that ultimately fails to deliver.


See also: Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999), (2001)

Dir: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Columbia Pictures, 120 mins, 15/10/10

Synopsis: The birth of Facebook, now on film. The Social Network is the story of how Mark Zuckerberg founded the most famous social networking site in history, and the ensuing lawsuits...


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