TheDC Movie Review: The Social Network

Alec Jacobs Contributor
Font Size:

Based on Ben Mezrich’s bestselling book The Accidental Billioniares, The Social Network tells the story of how Facebook came to be and, most importantly, confirms the swirling rumors that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg really, really sucks.

Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy computer programmer and Harvard undergrad, is bitter over a breakup with his girlfriend and decides to design a website called facemash — a database filled with pictures of every female student at Harvard. The male student population salivates over the pictures posted, ranking the girls in order of hotness. Somehow, this leads to Zuckerberg coming up with his famous idea for “The Facebook” (or stealing said famous idea, depending on whose story you believe).  The site, obviously, becomes wildly popular and spreads first to universities around the country and then the world, with the help of Zuckerberg’s classmates and Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). The money flows in and everyone’s happy for about four seconds, until Zuckerberg suddenly finds himself the defendant in two major lawsuits filed by scorned frenemies. The film explores these lawsuits and their origins, which happen to also be the origins of Facebook itself.

As the credits rolled and I left the theatre, the girl in front of me said to her friend, “That was like, so relatable to like, our lives!” which sounds idiotic but in retrospect was a fairly astute comment. It captures the gist of The Social Network precisely, as the film really is tailor made for the Facebook generation: mostly college students and a few select adults who are able to maneuver the site much to their kids’ chagrin. References are made to the creations of “the Wall” and the “relationship status,” yet no one ever explains what these terms actually mean. Why? Because no one without a Facebook account would (or should) see the film. In one scene, Zuckerberg repeatedly refreshes his browser to see if someone has accepted his friend request. In another, a kid asks his friend to find out (via Facebook) if a girl he likes is in a relationship. If you don’t use Facebook, these acts seem ridiculous. If this kid wants to know if the girl has a boyfriend, why doesn’t he just ask her?

A common criticism of Facebook (and other similar forms of social media) is that it’s changed the way people of generation Y communicate with one another and engage with the outside world — but not in a good way. Nobody actually speaks to each other; they Facebook chat. Nobody has to worry about meeting new people when they start college; they just friend their future classmates on Facebook. The nature of friendship has changed, rendering college-age students often anti-social.

It’s appropriate, then, that none of the characters are likeable because, well, none knows how to be friends with other people. But “not likeable” isn’t strong enough. I hated every character. They all cared about money, success, topping one another and getting girls only, regardless of how their friendships were affected.  As you might imagine, it’s hard to enjoy a movie when you want to reach through the screen and strangle everyone. Zuckerberg is a tool, and I mean that in the meanest way possible. He’s awful.  Smart, sure, but a miserable human being.

The actors, at least, convey these traits successfully.  Jesse Eisenberg, who’s usually so endearing (in Zombieland and The Squid and the Whale), was able to play the horrible Zuckerberg. Justin Timberlake also proved that he is actually a decent actor (unlike other singers who try to act…I’m looking at you, Beyonce) in the role of Sean Parker, another huge tool.

Conversely, the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) was perfectly respectable, as was David Fincher’s direction. But when the problem lies in a film’s main characters being entirely repulsive, it’s difficult to make a movie that’s pleasant to watch.

On a scale of one to five, one being “I’m going to torch this movie theatre before the movie ends” and five being “I will annoy my friends for weeks by constantly discussing every minute detail of the movie, just like I did with Inception,” The Social Network gets a two: “I’ll rent it and still won’t like it, but at least I didn’t have to spend all that money on seeing it in an actual theatre.”