In just a short period of time, social media has greatly changed the way we communicate with each other. Our personal and online lives are increasingly being intertwined to levels most of us never dreamed imaginable -- but is it for the better? Two films this fall bring Facebook -- the leading social media site -- to the silver screen. One movie explores the site's genesis -- while the other is a disturbing take on where we are at now. Both help to define a generation -- and are the perfect complement to each other. I strongly recommend that you see them both -- and in this order...
The Social Network
Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), The Social Network is an engrossing look into the creation and early years of Facebook -- and the mind of its co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). It's almost hard to fathom (with its current active worldwide user base of 500 million people) that Facebook is a relatively young addition to the Internet. How it got started in 2004, survived and thrived makes for an amazing business story and history lesson -- but Fincher's character study of the brilliant mind behind the entity makes for movie magic.
After being dumped by his girlfriend (captured in one of the best movie openings in a long time), Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg decides to create a university version of Hot or Not -- a rating site that allows users to judge the attractiveness of individuals in posted photos. Learning of his technical expertise, fellow Harvard students and identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss recruit him for help starting Harvard Connection, an online community exclusively for that university's students. Perfecting (or stealing?) their idea, Zuckerberg creates The Facebook (the "The" drop is later explained) -- and it's an almost immediate success. But as the site continues to flourish, Zuckerberg is faced with not one -- but two lawsuits that threaten to halt the site's growth and drive him out of the business.
As the film's promotional poster states, Zuckerberg makes many enemies along the way. So, it's amazing to see how he pulls off Houdini-like escapes to survive the legal battles. Kudos go out to Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, Zombieland) who is terrific in the lead. Somehow he's able to pull off this complex person -- how can we possibly be sympathetic to him even though he is a total douchebag (sorry, no other word fits)?
Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, TV's West Wing) weave a captivating story adapted from Ben Mezrich's 2009 book, "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal." Both the book and film are unauthorized accounts of the site's young founder. The strong cast includes Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go) as the screwed-over friend and site co-founder Eduardo Saverin -- and Armie Hammer, who does double duty playing the Winklevoss twins. And then there's Justin Timberlake -- who proves again that he is not just an amazing musician -- as he turns in a convincing high-energy portrayal of Napster founder/party boy Sean Parker, who helps Zuckerberg think bigger.
The film is being touted by many as the 'film of the year,' but is it that good? I don't think so. Some of the added humor in this mostly dramatic story falls flat. And it would have been great to learn a bit about Zuckerberg's upbringing -- what helped mold him into this gifted jerk? Even a brief look into his family life would clear up that big question. Finally, some of the cast is totally wasted -- such as Rashida Jones' (I Love You, Man) turn as a member of one legal team. But these are minor complaints on an otherwise very intriguing film. [Rated PG-13; opens today]
There's something the folks behind Facebook and the media failed to tell you when announcing the recent 500-million-user threshold -- that not all of the people behind those profiles are for real. The Internet allows us the freedom to create any persona we'd like -- it only becomes a big issue if you then try to bring that life into the real world. In their unsettling documentary, Catfish, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost explore this other part of the Facebook story.
Chronicling the adventures of Ariel's brother Nev, a New York City photographer, the filmmakers set off to tell a tale of friendship in the Internet age. It all starts when Nev befriends Abby, an eight-year-old child prodigy artist in rural Michigan, who sends him a painting of one of his photographs. They become Facebook buddies in a network that broadens to include the girl's mother, Angela, Angela's husband and Abby's attractive older half-sister Megan. But as the friendships move from online to the phone -- and a long-distance romance stirs between Nev and Megan -- things begin to get fishy. When Nev, Ariel and Henry travel together to Michigan to visit the family, the resulting encounter is astonishing.
Let's clear the air on a couple of things. Something is a little bizarre about the (mis)marketing for the movie, as it almost makes it look like a horror film. Although what you see is disturbing, it's not scary in the true sense of the word. And is the film a true documentary? Some will argue that there's some definite scripting going on here and there. But don't let that ruin the experience for you. The film is a gripping mystery -- and yes, the bizarre title is explained! [Rated PG-13; in select cities now]
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