Friday, October 1, 2010

Genesis of 'The Social Network' Like No Other

Jesse Eisenberg as an exasperated Mark Zuckerberg, above, in a deposition scene from "The Social Network," about the making of the 500 million-friend strong Facebook, below.

FOR a few weeks before I saw the film last week, I’d been seeing an ad on the side of buses that read “PUNK GENIUS BILLIONAIRE” wholly ignorant that it was an ad for “The Social Network” about the birth of Facebook. The film opens nationwide today.

In fall 2003 when Mark Zuckerberg&Co. were busy at Harvard creating (or not) the algorithms and other innards for the platform that would transform the way half a billion people interact, I was holding it down in Paris (France), helping a friend plan a wedding, amongst other things.

It wasn’t until sometime in 2006 after I’d moved to New York that I first heard of Facebook. I didn’t get it. “The Social Network” scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) who has a cameo in the film and who appeared on “The View” on Wednesday to promote the film – which he did unabashedly – articulated my sentiments. “I know about Facebook the way I know a car has a carburetor,” he responded when asked whether he was on it or knew about. “But if I opened the hood I couldn’t find it.” AS is not on Facebook and has no plans to join, he declared.

Someone attempted to explain this phenomenon to me in 2006, “Well, if people want to know what you’re doing, they can just go to your page and see everything, so you don’t have to send out a global.”

Believing in the power and reach of Yahoo! e-mail, I remarked, “I don’t mind sending out a global.”

It was not until last year that I joined Facebook – after the birth of VEVLYN’S PEN. I reasoned, “Now I can try to make it useful for myself because I have something to say that is not personal and perhaps can benefit VEVLYN’S PEN” – and by extension, Yours Truly. Though I’ve joined and still don’t quite get it, I don’t use Facebook as much as I should. As recently as a month or so ago, I sent out a blast, complaining that I did not find Facebook user-friendly amongst other grievances. I ended in utter frustration with, “Where’s my wall?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Watching “The Social Network” at its star-studded gala premiere and opening of the 48th New York Film Festival, it was fascinating to imagine how Facebook might have come about. AS wrote the script from Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal.” The title of the 2009 best-seller fairly sums up what the book and the film it informs are about. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin was a consultant on BM’s book. He and co-founder MZ had a falling out, so MZ’s account of how Facebook came into being may be somewhat different. The latter refused to cooperate on the book or the film.

So whose to know what’s true or what’s not true. Did Mark really steal the idea of Facebook from the Winklevoss twins&friend? Did Mark really, under the bad/good influence of Sean Parker, really squeeze Eduardo out of the company and his shares? Did SP aka Napster after a multiple apple-martini dinner with the co-founders, or on another occasion, really assert, “One suggestion: Get rid of the ‘the’. Just ‘Facebook’. Flows better.”

I haven’t followed the story like, say, my Chase banker. She was at university when Facebook was coming together and has some insights into such questions and is very interested in seeing the film. I did not allow her, however, to coerce a review out of me before I was ready to share.

Mark Zuckerberg – the 35th richest person on the latest Forbes list with a net worth of $6.9 billion and reportedly the youngest, richest in the world – does not come across in the best light in “The Social Network.” But at the same time, I don’t think he looks so terribly evil either. Maybe a little cantankerous for one so young, but one must keep in mind that this young man is a social misfit. This social awkwardness is part of what breathed life into Facebook.

Because of the Internet we have platforms such as Facebook, which has revolutionized the way we relate to each other. To think that one can live in New York and be in touch with one who lives in Timbuktu if s/he has an Internet connection. It’s beyond – even though it’s real, it’s surreal – comprehension. It’s a bunch to wrap the brain around.

Overall, I like the film. The first third, though, is a little plodding, even as we see Mark having that famous fight with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) that gives life to the precursor to Facebook. I was fidgeting here and during other scenes, a sign that I am bored. It’s a little dull, but I was interested in learning about the story so that kept me rooted in my seat.

The scenes at the computer when the magic is happening are engaging enough but are annoying, owing to a personal beef. I don’t believe anybody types that fast, especially when numbers are involved. Of course, the movies are edited thusly for dramatic purposes. But still. Why can’t programmers be depicted making typos – even if a very few? I think there is drama inherent in that, too. A minor quibble.

There are also early scenes in the film of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll variety that are a little superfluous, but the crux of the film revolves around the separate lawsuits filed against Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) by both Eduardo (new Spiderman Andrew Garfield) and the Winklevoss’ (Armie Hammer/Josh Pence). The action is set in a law office where depositions are taking place. As complainants give their accounts of basically how Mark screwed them over, the scene goes back in time to depict the events of their testimony before toggling back to the deposition chamber.

It is fascinating. AS’s writing is sharp, crisp, real, human. Fans of “The West Wing” will recognize his voice. The players, especially in the deposition scenes, deliver the lines with verve. All principals put in strong, credible performances. They become the people they are depicting. JE is Mark, especially after seeing the latter on Oprah the day after the story was leaked about his $100 million-gift to the Newark, NJ school system. The resemblance is uncanny. The scuttlebutt is that Justin Timberlake as Napster steals the film. Whenever he is in a scene … I’ll just say that JT makes the most of his time on screen. And delivers delicious lines such as the one about “the” in the title and when he asks Mark and Eduardo whether they want to make millions or billions, rendering them wide-eyed, open-mouthed and mute.

“The Social Network” is a film to see because Facebook is a huge part of world culture. The story is unfolding in real time. It is not yet at an end. Its full impact is still an unknown. It’s exciting and, scary.

Visit to learn more about the 48th New York Film Festival.

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