Thursday, September 30, 2010

THE SOCIAL NETWORK and CATFISH: Friend Requests Accepted

At first, the concept of a movie about Facebook seemed a little silly.  For one thing, the site has only really been around for, what, six years?  Who knows what its place in the grand scheme of things will be six years from now.  (Remember, Friendster was a pretty big deal in 2003.)  Turns out, though, that the events leading up to the creation of Facebook were kind of fascinating, and in many ways, represent the fast-paced, detached-from-reality mindset of the early 21st century.  Directed by the great David Fincher, with an electrifying script by Aaron Sorkin and featuring a stellar cast of young talent, THE SOCIAL NETWORK has emerged as not only one of the best movies of the year, but one of the more important films of its generation.

socialnetwork The story begins with one of the most painfully awkward breakups you'll ever see on screen.  Harvard computer science geek Mark Zuckerberg sits in a bar with his girlfriend and they talk about... well, it's hard to say and even harder to keep up.  The conversation is loaded with double-talk and rapid-fire, back-and-forth dialogue -- Zuckerberg's mind clearly works at a ridiculously fast pace, tiring of topics and moving on to something completely unrelated even before the other person has a chance to respond.  It's a fascinating introduction and immediately displays that Zuckerberg may just be too smart and self-involved for his own good.

After the breakup, Zuckerberg embarks on a wild journey of vengeance, creation, wheeling & dealing, deception and incredible genius.  Reputations are made, friends are forsaken and douchebag frat boys are screwed over (from a certain point of view, this movie occasionally plays like REVENGE OF THE NERDS for the Internet age).  The surprisingly-enthralling plot unfurls like a whirlwind and Sorkin's script is so snappy & exciting, loaded with incredible dialogue, great drama and blistering confrontations that it sometimes feels like an action movie.  And Fincher's touch is no less magical -- the man has his finger on the pulse of humanity like few filmmakers working today.  His signature visual style fits the story perfectly -- this film could very easily have taken place in the same dark universe as SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB and ZODIAC.  Great score from Trent Reznor (!) and Atticus Ross, too -- one the year's best & most memorable (though I am still partial to that thundering INCEPTION theme).

Acting-wise, the movie is a revelation.  I've been a Jesse Eisenberg fan since seeing him in ROGER DODGER ten years ago, and I am confident that this will be the movie that finally erases his "poor man's Michael Cera" stigma and maybe even earns him Oscar gold.  It's a remarkable performance -- the perfect combination of complete social awkwardness and cold, calculating arrogance.  He's kind of an asshole, but damn, does he know his stuff.  Equally fantastic is Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg’s best friend and Facebook’s co-founder, Eduardo.  I've now seen this guy in three noteworthy movies over the past couple of weeks (this one, NEVER LET ME GO and the RED RIDING trilogy) and it is clear that he is one of the best young actors around and will undoubtedly kick ass as the new Peter Parker.  Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, is a scene-stealer as dot-com superstar Sean Parker (remember Napster?), who gets into Zuckerberg's head and drives him to turn Facebook into something truly legendary.  Excellent supporting cast, too, including Armie Hammer in a dual role as the entitled Winklevoss twins, and Rooney Mara (soon-to-be Lisbeth Salander in the Americanized GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO remake) as the girlfriend in that scintillating opening scene.

Now, apparently this movie was written with no help from the real Mark Zuckerberg, so who knows exactly how much is real and how much is fabricated.  But I'm willing to bet that most of it is pretty accurate.  I don't doubt for a second that Zuckerberg stole the idea from the Winklevosses, screwed over his best friend and basically alienated everyone he ever knew... but he clearly turned the idea into something bigger and better than anyone else would have done.  In the end, who cares, because even after doling out however many hundreds of millions of dollars to make the legal troubles go away, Zuckerberg is still a billionaire many times over.  And that's one of the points of the movie:  In this age of instant information, if you have an idea, you'd better run with it immediately, because if you don't, someone else will.  I wouldn't be surprised if, in a few years, this movie is linked to the disconnected '00s the way that FIGHT CLUB is to the '90s, WALL STREET to the '80s, NETWORK to the '70s.  Yes, folks, the Facebook movie is that good!

CatfishBut wait, there’s more! Let's skip ahead a few years... Facebook has pretty much entrenched itself into society and become the leader of the social networking revolution.  For most people, at the very least, it has become a part of their regular daily routine, a place to share photos and catch up with old friends.  For others it is something that must be checked and browsed and updated throughout the day -- a running log of one’s daily life.  And for a select few, it is a place where one can create an entirely new persona and disappear into a twisted combination of fantasy and reality.  Which brings us to CATFISH.  If THE SOCIAL NETWORK is Facebook’s origin story, then CATFISH deals with the consequences.  It’s a story about how powerful Mark Zuckerberg's creation can be -- and how it can be manipulated for better or worse.

Simply put, it's a documentary about a guy who meets a girl through an unusual Facebook connection, develops an intense relationship with her without actually having met (lots of chatting and status-updating and photo-stalking ensue), and eventually discovers that things may not be exactly as they seem.  Determined to find out the truth, he and his filmmaking friends pay a surprise visit to the girl's house in the middle of nowhere... and then things get weird.

I am being intentionally vague about the plot because it's best to see this movie with as little knowledge as possible.  Once again (and fittingly, considering the subject at hand), there are questions as to whether or not the film is a true documentary, or if has at least been partially staged (personally, I think it’s mostly real with some cinematic embellishments)... but regardless, it is a gripping portrait of the kind of world that social networking, and Facebook in particular, hath wrought.

CATFISH is playing now in select theatres (with a wider release coming soon, I think), and THE SOCIAL NETWORK opens this Friday nationwide.  Both are must-sees -- but ideally, I recommend seeing them together in the ultimate 21st century double-feature.  LIKE!

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