Review: 'The Social Network'

(Three-and-a-half stars)

There's a lot to "Like" about "The Social Network."

The riveting film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg defines a generation, a la "Easy Rider" and "The Breakfast Club." Director David Fincher ("Fight Club," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") helms with a deft touch; the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin is beautifully crafted; and the acting is exceptional.

In fact, the only thing missing from "The Social Network" is a likable protagonist.

Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg of "Zombieland") wasn't always the world's youngest billionaire. In 2003, the computer whiz was an undergrad at Harvard University, more interested in campus life and dating than status updates or profile pics. When Zuckerberg is unceremoniously dumped by college flame Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), he spends the evening chugging beer, lambasting Erica on his blog and creating a website called Facemash, which displays photos of two Harvard girls side-by-side and invites users to pick the more attractive one.

Facemash lands Zuckerberg in the Harvard doghouse but plants the seed that would eventually become the Facebook tree. Impressed by the popularity of Facemash, Harvard students (and twin brothers) Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) and a colleague approach Zuckerberg to enlist his help with the development of Harvard Connection, a MySpace-esque site specifically for Harvard students.

Bing! Zuckerberg quickly enlists the financial and moral support of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield of "Lions for Lambs"), to create his own social-networking site. In less time than it takes to fix a transmission, Zuckerberg designs and builds The site is a fast success, and soon Zuckerberg and Saverin are figuring out ways to expand it to other universities (including Stanford) while the Winklevoss twins fume that Zuckerberg "stole our website."

"The Social Network" jumps back and forth in time, through the evolution of Facebook (which includes the involvement of Napster founder Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake) to the deterioration of Zuckerberg's and Saverin's friendship, and Zuckerberg facing two multi-million-dollar lawsuits. Developing a website as popular as Facebook doesn't come without a price.

Eisenberg is perfectly cast as Zuckerberg, who comes across as aloof and self-serving, though there's a sympathetic loneliness that accompanies his impressive programming IQ. It's ironic that the man with more than 500 million friends on Facebook reportedly didn't have many (if any) before Facebook became Facebook. And the film portrays him as throwing the one true friend he had -- Saverin -- under the bus when Facebook started soaring. Of course there are some missing components when a film squeezes years into a two-hour runtime.

Garfield rides an emotional roller coaster as Saverin and proves up to the task. Timberlake is perfectly cast as Parker and is starting to demonstrate that he is not only a charismatic actor, he's also a good one.

The film moves at a fantastic pace and is rife with humor, suspense and insight. Fincher is a considerate, meticulous and visionary director, and his influence is obvious. The soundtrack, lighting, cinematography and production design are impressive.

"The Social Network" is that much more provocative for those of us who live in Silicon Valley and have made Facebook a part of our daily lives. Status update: Don't miss it.

Rated PG-13 for language, drug and alcohol use and sexual content. 2 hours, 1 minute.

— Tyler Hanley

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