Furious that his girlfriend just dumped him, Mark Zuckerberg races to his Harvard dorm room and trashes her on his blog. He then instantly creates a campus database where guys can compare pictures of two female students and choose which is “hotter” -- an idea that eventually morphs into Facebook.
So that’s why Facebook was created: to get revenge and stare at sexy girls.
Or maybe not. In “The Social Network,” a frenetically entertaining film that re-enacts the birth of Zuckerberg’s immensely popular website, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher tell the story from three different -- and often contradictory -- points of view.
The first comes from Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the brash computer genius who launched the website at Harvard in 2004 with Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and two other classmates.
Saverin offers another perspective, that of a scorned friend who provided the company’s early financing and then was squeezed out. Offering a third vantage point are the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence), Bunyonesque preppie Harvard rowers who claim that Zuckerberg stole the Facebook idea from them.
Saverin and the Winklevoss brothers filed lawsuits against Zuckerberg that resulted in settlements. The film uses those legal proceedings -- Zuckerberg, Saverin and the twins are shown in a conference room giving depositions in the cases -- to reconstruct Facebook’s beginnings from their overlapping, often undermining testimony. It can get confusing, but it effectively shows how the truth can be elusive when so much is at stake.
Zuckerberg is reportedly angry over his portrayal in the movie -- and it’s easy to understand why. Though none of the major characters appears very likable, his image takes the biggest hit. He comes across as an arrogant bully with horrible social skills who is willing to sacrifice his few friends in the rush to build his company.
Eisenberg, the curly haired actor who played angst-ridden adolescents in “The Squid and the Whale” and “Adventureland,” skillfully reveals the insecurity and relentless drive that fueled Zuckerberg’s success. (In the movie, he’s jealous of Saverin for getting into one of Harvard’s exclusive social clubs.)
Justin Timberlake also delivers a strong performance as Napster co-founder Sean Parker, a hard-partier who became Facebook’s first president after lining up financial support from Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
“The Social Network” successfully combines Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue (“The West Wing”) with Fincher’s bold visual style (“Zodiac,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). The script is filled with clever putdowns and sharp observations -- “Creation myths need a devil,” says one of Zuckerberg’s attorneys -- but the film wouldn’t be as compelling without Fincher’s inventive lighting, editing and camera angles.
For all his brusqueness, Zuckerberg isn’t the most offensive character in the movie. That distinction belongs to then-Harvard President Larry Summers (played by film and theater producer Douglas Urbanski), who rudely dismisses the twins when they visit his office to complain about Zuckerberg.
The White House just announced that Summers is leaving his job as the president’s chief economic adviser to return to Harvard. I doubt he’ll be teaching etiquette.
“The Social Network,” from Columbia Pictures, premiered Sept. 24 at the New York Film Festival and opens Oct. 1 across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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