‘Social Network’ more about awkward genius than website

Jesse Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.”
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 1:39 p.m.

‘The Social Network” is more commonly referred to as “The Facebook Movie.” This is both a conversational shorthand (it sums up the entire film in three words) and a subconscious expression of decisively low expectations.


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Nate rates it:
“The Social Network” Buy It
“Flash of Genius” Rent It
Rating key
Buy It — worth adding to your personal collection; Rent It — worth paying money to watch
Watch It — worth watching for free
Skip It — not worth watching at all.

“A movie about a website?” is a common reaction to hearing of this movie’s existence. What’s next, begs the question. “Yahoo: The Motion Picture”? “The Googler”? “The Good, the Bad and the Tumbler?” A movie about a website sounds about as promising as, say, a movie about a hockey player who gets turned into a tooth fairy.

One of the nice surprises about “The Social Network” is that it isn’t a movie about a website at all. The website is just the “MacGuffin.” It’s really a movie about a socially awkward genius who ends up becoming a mega-billionaire out of spite to his ex-girlfriend. (A brief aside: the term MacGuffin was coined by Alfred Hitchcock and refers to the thing in a movie that everybody wants; the item that propels the plot. The briefcase in “Pulp Fiction” is a good example, as is the Pink Panther jewel.)

When we first meet Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), he is getting dumped by his girlfriend for being an insufferable, condescending jerk. Upset, he does a little hacking, some programming and creates a site so popular it crashes the entire Harvard computer system. This gets him in trouble, but also puts him on the radar of some investors with an idea for a website.

Zuckerberg throws their idea in the trash once it inspires his own, better, idea, for an exclusive, college-only social network called Facebook. It grows at a stupefying rate and leads to such insane amounts of money and success that Zuckerberg and his partners turn on each other. Friendships are destroyed and lawsuits are flying from all directions.

One doesn’t need to be a Facebook addict to like this movie. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve even heard of Facebook — this is a movie about people and how success brings them into conflict with each other. That leads to another nice surprise about the film — it has no bad guys. The closest thing to a villain in the movie is Zuckerberg himself (whose lack of social skills borders on the pathological) and Justin Timberlake’s character, a smooth-talking Internet shyster Sean Parker, who co-founded Napster. But even these guys aren’t the bad guys, just flawed characters.

This movie does a lot right. David Fincher’s directing is solid. The music, by notable noisemaker Trent Reznor, is spectacular. The acting is good across the board, but the three lead characters, played by Eisenberg, Timberlake and Andrew Garfield, are excellent; quirky yet grounded and sympathetic. And it’s refreshing for these characters, and the film, to admit that, like most of the great accomplishments of mankind, it was only done as a way to get girls.

The Facebook website itself is talked about and is the driving force but is not actually integral to the story. The movie could have been about any website, or idea ... it could have even been about windshield wipers, for instance.

“FLASH OF GENIUS”: This 2008 film is about the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. Greg Kinnear plays Bob Kearns in a movie that, like “The Social Network,” is based on a true story of an outsider that has a revolutionary idea and ends up fighting for it in the courtroom.

Kearns is a family man with an idea that doesn’t seem that brilliant — he invents the timer that allows you to select the speed of your wipers. The car companies haven’t been able to figure it out, and they make a deal with Kearns — only to steal the idea and pretend they never met him. He takes it hard, going lightly bananas and chasing away his wife and children with an obsession of not only getting paid for his invention, but forcing the car companies to admit they stole it.

In both movies, the human element is what makes the movie interesting. By following the formula of these directors, one could theoretically make an interesting movie about tube socks. Here’s hoping they don’t. But they could.

Coming attractions

Next week we’ve got “Takers,” a heist movie geared toward the Facebook generation. It’s like “Oceans 11” for people who have never heard of Frank Sinatra. After that comes the Bruce Willis comedy/action hit “Red” and a trio of horror tales, “Saw 3D,” “Paranormal Activity 2” and “Let Me In.”

Contact Nate Hensley at

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