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According to The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is not only “not a hugger,” he probably couldn’t be bothered to throw a virtual sheep at you. From the very start of David Fincher’s frenetic, fictionalized biopic to its very end, the founder of Facebook is painted as a five-star asshole, a barely socialized genius who says and does what he wants regardless of the consequences. Sometimes this means pissing off friends or getting dumped. (When he rapidly talks at and condescends to his exasperated girlfriend, she says, “Dating you is like dating a StairMaster.”) But Zuckerberg’s biggest—and alleged—fuck-you move was taking someone else’s idea for a online, exclusive social network and running with it, leaving a trail of enemies and lawsuits in his wake.
It all starts with the breakup. Angry that Erica (Rooney Mara, the future Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has left him, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) gets drunk in his Harvard dorm room, blogging about what a bitch she is and creating a hot-or-not website to judge the university’s co-eds and somehow humiliate Erica by proxy. The experiment goes viral and crashes Harvard’s servers. This gets the attention of twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, with Josh Pence helping as a body double) and their friend, Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who want Mark to lend his programming skills to a schoolwide networking site. Sure, Mark says, one of the rare times his eyes light up. Then: Um, I’m really busy and can’t meet with you—ever. Then, a few months later: The Facebook launches, and the threesome is pissed.
In the dark about Mark’s intellectual borrowing is Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, future Spider-Man), Mark’s first investor whom he officially recognizes—at first—as a co-founder and CFO. As Facebook explodes (future partner and Napster co-founder Sean Parker, played with hyperslick bravado by Justin Timberlake, convinces Mark to drop the “the”), its economics get more complicated and Eduardo gets edged out. For a money man, Eduardo’s the one with a conscience, and he wants to believe in his best bud. Instead, he also ends up suing Zuckerberg—resulting in what is surely the most expensive defriending in history.
Based on a sensationalized book by Ben Mezrich (for which Saverin served as consultant) and likely further sensationalized by sharp-shooting screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network goes down like a college rager—loud, chaotic, at times enervating and elsewhere exhausting. Even with Fincher interspersing scenes of legal depositions with the development and rise of the site, the time-shifts and dialogue are lightning-fast to the point of dizzying. A crunchy, industrial score by Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor adds to the bluster; it’s all a perfect package to document a bright young thing’s meteoric rise and near-fall. The script’s humor comes mostly via sarcasm, though Mark’s hollered “We do not crash—ever!” earns an unintentional laugh, considering Facebook’s recent hours-long face-plant.
None of it would work without Eisenberg, however, who’s intense, gruff, alienating, and devoid of his usual Michael Cera-isms (except for when he rattles off mouthfuls of dialogue). The Zombieland and The Squid and the Whale actor, before merely irritating to some, is truly unlikeable as Mark, and you both curse and thrill at everything the character gets away with. If the real Zuckerberg is worried about his image (though one imagines his billions are enough comfort) he needn’t be; if you’re addicted to FarmVille or telling the world what you had for lunch, you probably won’t care that Facebook’s daddy is an alleged thief and an all-around jackass. Like one lawyer tells him regarding the settlement of a suit: “In the grand scheme of things, it’s a speeding ticket.”