The Social Network (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
To be honest, that earnestly self-delighted trailer, with the heated-drama highlight reel and the choir singing Radiohead's "Creep," might have been all we needed. But with Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, a script by Aaron Sorkin (from Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires) and director David Fincher knowing he owes us one after The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this online-culture origin myth might actually be a fun diversion.
Is it too soon? Probably, but life and all its weird facsimiles come at us so quickly nowadays, which is partly why you know you want to see The Social Network anyway: to process. Besides, if there's any subject that cinema, with its paradoxical mass intimacy, should be able to handle, it's the freakish technological acceleration of social interaction and concomitant dissolution of human relations.
And who is responsible for that? All of us, yes, but who started it? The Social Network supplies Zuckerberg as an awkwardly tufthunting Harvard sophomore, deservedly jilted by his chagrined safety-school girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and driven to harness the Internet for a pettily brilliant public that's despairing of social impotence.
Human nature and elite-university entitlement being what they are, this prompts a palpable phenomenon, and soon enough comes monetization. The guarded genius Zuckerberg, paragon of poker-faced contempt for all the strivers surrounding him, necessarily runs afoul of several classmates — including, most significantly, his cautious de facto business partner and ostensible only friend Eduardo Saverin (the excellent Andrew Garfield), and twin proto-Olympian WASP supermen Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, doubled digitally — and sometimes bodily by Josh Pence), who, with their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), have an idea that Zuckerberg either steals or advances, depending on whom you ask. In any case, with timely help from Timberlake's Parker, a knavish Mephisto to Zuckerberg's nerdy Faust, the accidental billionaire's actions prove actionable.
There's a mesmerizing satisfaction to be had from recognizing the appropriateness of this material for its makers. Surely The Social Network will supplant The West Wing as the apotheosis of Sorkin's smug, windy style. As usual he indicates "smartness" as never being at a loss for words, and having ideas at the ready more rapidly than natural conversation can accommodate them.
There is also a certain trumping up that is the screen-dramatist's prerogative: Quick, get out of that shower you just stepped into and debrief me on this captivating and heretofore unfamiliar website! Notes like this sound especially false when played by a director historically more convincing as a technician than a humanist. The Social Network works much better when playing unabashedly into the characteristic Fincherian chill.
But for all its real enough ideas — about young people making jobs instead of taking them, about the end of the old privacy and the beginning of a new obscurity — The Social Network falls short of full articulation. You sense a stymied older generation passive-aggressively handing off the baton of cultural canniness to a savvy younger one through a series of on-screen depositions. Sorkin and Fincher neither rue nor celebrate the Facebookers' achievement, but simply graft it onto the shopworn archetypal framework of an ambition-driven morality tale. This isn't a brave new world but actually a craven one, explained away as reassuringly as possible with a same old story.