Well, we have our most overrated film of 2010. Just like "A History of Violence" in 2005 and "Avatar" last year, "The Social Network" is drawing inordinate praise from critics, who are writhing with pleasure over this portrait of "Facebook" billionaire Mark Zuckerberg.*
"The Social Network" is a decent movie, but a few problems derailed it for me:
1) Its depiction of Harvard's final clubs. Zuckerberg is presented as being preoccupied** with the clubs, bastions of elites to which he is not granted entrance. In an early scene, women in nightclub attire are bussed to one of the clubs, where a club leader stands on the stairs and greets them by shouting in a very self-serious voice, "Ladies, welcome to the first party of the season at (whatever its name was), one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs at Harvard," or something to that effect. This may sound crazy, but I don't think Harvard guys are quite that lame and pretentious. Then director David Finch shows the party progressing and women who look like lingerie models dancing in their underwear on tables. Sorry, somehow I doubt parties at Harvard social clubs are indistinguishable from spring break at Lake Havasu.
2) The groupie effect. Within two weeks or so of Facebook going live, Zuckerburg and his then-buddy and CFO Eduardo Saverin attend a talk on campus by Bill Gates, when they are hit on by two hot women who later that night service them in stalls in the men's room at a restaurant. Please. The guy had just started a campus website. This wasn't "Appetite for Destruction"-era Axl Rose.
3) Two of Zuckerberg's primary antagonists, the Winklevoss brothers, were overcooked by about half an hour. They could step off the screen and right into a "Revenge of the Nerds" remake. Exhibit A: The remark by one of the twins (both played by the same actor) as to why he doesn't want to sue Zuckerberg: "We're gentlemen of Harvard." What is this, 1879? This and the stuff with the final clubs contribute to a portrait of Harvard that is caricature, a lazy, unnecessary twisting of the institution into something it's not to serve the dramatic needs of the film.
4) Anyone who's seen "A Few Good Men" knows Aaron Sorkin doesn't believe realism is an important consideration when depicting the legal process. I happen to like "A Few Good Men," but you have to suspend your disbelief in the courtroom scenes, particularly the testimony of Col. Jessup (Nicholson), e.g. the part where he turns it around and starts asking Lt. Kaffee (Cruise) questions.
In "The Social Network," Sorkin uses the depositions in the lawsuits against Mark Zuckerberg as the narrative engine of the story, cutting back and forth from "present day" to the past. He ignores the fact that depositions don't consist of plaintiff, defendant and attorneys sitting around a table talking to one another, i.e. Zuckerberg isn't going to be sitting there when Saverin lays out his side of the story
That's a minor quibble. What bothered me was the hackneyed moment when we return from a flashback to the deposition, and the attorneys have to get Saverin's attention because he's swivelled a chair around to face the window in the 20th-floor conference room and is looking out at the vista below, lost in thought. Because when you're being questioned by attorneys in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, sometimes you just feel like turning away from them and zoning out, staring vacantly out the window.
The point of all these criticisms is that "The Social Network" is an entertainment, not a cinematic masterpiece, as some critics are suggesting. I've heard comparisons to "Citizen Kane," which is ludricrous. Great films don't make your BS detector light up every five minutes.
I can understand why Sorkin and Fincher took the liberties they did. They were making a movie about a 6-year-old social networking company that lets people "poke" one other and share the riveting details of their visit to the DMV. They needed to spice it up. And they succeeded in making a compelling film. But they missed the other solution to the quandry of telling the story of Facebook: Don't make a movie about Facebook. Did the world really need this movie?
Which brings us to the ethical question. This movie is based on "Accidental Billionaires," which as most people know played fast and loose with the facts and apparently was based primarily on the recollections of Saverin, who went into the project with a 60-pound ax to grind. Reading some recent stories on the characters in the Facebook drama makes it clear that Zuckerberg and Sean Parker are made to look worse than they really are and Saverin* is made to look better than he really is. It wouldn't have been that difficult for the filmmakers to discover the truth of the situation -- this isn't ancient history. But it might have made for a less interesting story, so they ignored it.
In the end, this is a decent piece of entertainment that deliberately gives a misleading account of events that aren't even a decade old. For better** or worse, Sorkin and Fincher will have to live that choice.*****
*Best part of this movie was Jessie Eisenberg. Brilliant performance. **In real life he denies he was ever interested in the final clubs. ***This is a guy who apparently wore suits everyday to class. There's a nine-letter word for a guy like this that begins with "D." ****Given that a trite piece of garbage like "Crash" won Best Picture in 2004, Oscars are certainly possible here. *****Sorkin appeared to experience a pang of conscience when told by the New Yorker that "The West Wing" had been one of Zuckerberg's favorite TV shows.