Who's In It: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Justin Timberlake, Max Minghella, Armie Hammer, Rashida Jones, Brenda Song, Malese Jow
The Basics: Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg, a computer whiz with a knack for whipping up mean-spirited but popular websites out of boredom, creates Facebook in 2004. Within a few years Zuckerberg has grown the company, moved to Silicon Valley, and alienated every person he'd ever been friends and/or business partners with because he's a socially awkward misanthropic jerk who's bitter because the cool kids never invited him to hang out. At least, that's the argument that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher make in this fictionalized version of events, told via flashbacks as Zuckerberg is sued by his frenemies and made out to be the Charles Foster Kane of social networking.
What's The Deal: The Social Network unfolds like a puzzle, jumping forward and back through time to paint a portrait of Zuckerberg as a brilliant but petty kid driven by resentment and bitterness. At the center of the film is Jesse Eisenberg, here adding a darkness we haven't seen before to his usual neurotic on-screen persona. If this were a serial killer movie instead of a docudrama about nerds, you'd believe in a heartbeat that Eisenberg was capable of very bad things. The way he undercuts his best friend (Andrew Garfield), his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), and his enemies (Max Minghella, Armie Hammer) in the cruelest of ways gives us a fascinating window into Zuckerberg's insecurity/jealousy/ambition, but it ultimately feels like an overly constructed realization of villainy; the film would like you to believe that this horrible-but-brilliant nerd is still alone with his bazillions of dollars to this very day, sadder than the folks he steamrolled on his way to success, when a simple online search shows that he has plenty of friends (on Facebook) and an honest to goodness girlfriend in real life. Also, he hasn't murdered anyone yet that I know of, so maybe, just maybe, he's not quite the sociopath Fincher makes him out to be.
Like: Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg's college BFF and business partner Eduardo Saverin, who fronted the startup money and remained Zuckerberg's only real friend before getting screwed over; compare Garfield here with his turn as the simple-minded, rage-filled Tommy in Never Let Me Go and you see shades of the same naiveté.
Unlike: Being a JT devotee I say this with a heavy heart: This is not Justin Timberlake's best work. As the slimy Napster founder Sean Parker, his over-the-top hubris plays so much like unintentional caricature that it makes his D*** in a Box performance look restrained. Also problematic is the female presence in The Social Network; with the exception of Rooney Mara as the girl who breaks Zuckerberg's heart in a crackling opening scene (and then shows up one more time before promptly disappearing), not a single female character is given anything of note to do. In this, Fincher achieves another feat of a sort: He manages to make Rashida Jones boring and turn former kiddie channel actors Brenda Song (Disney's Wendy Wu, Homecoming Warrior) and Malese Jow (Nickelodeon's Unfabulous and the CW's The Vampire Diaries) into slutty one-note Asian co-eds who bestow sexual favors on the lead nerds before disappearing into the cinematic ether.
Comment: All that said, Fincher puts together one fine looking film. Technically speaking it doesn't seem all that impressive until you realize that those studly crew-rowing Winklevoss twins (or, as one character calls them, "the Winklevi") are played by one guy, Armie Hammer, whose slightly differentiated performance has been digitally transferred onto the body of another actor.