Nerds win!

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin make smart narrative work of Facebook biopic

Jesse Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg, the dark genius behind Facebook.

Jesse Eisenberg is Mark Zuckerberg, the dark genius behind Facebook.

The Social Network
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara. Directed by David Fincher. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, is a partially fictionalized biopic about Mark Zuckerberg and the advent of Facebook. In its fascinatingly oblique way, it’s a little like a super-smart and very ironic makeover of Revenge of the Nerds scampering around in a Citizen Kane-like collage of brilliantly fragmented flashbacks.

Yet it’s also a dark but very engaging comedy/drama that combines the talents of Sorkin (West Wing) and Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) in unexpectedly captivating form. The long opening scene has two college kids, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), playing out what starts like romantic comedy but quickly escalates into something closer to tragicomedy.

The rapid-fire dialogue in Sorkin’s script manages to bring out both the brilliant wit and the immaturity of the characters, most of whom are very smart kids at top-flight schools. And that pell-mell pacing prevails throughout the film, and long after it has gone on to being much more than a romantic comedy or a “youth picture.” The fast talk continues on in Zuckerberg’s dealings with his peers and in the segments of flashbacks and assorted official hearings that Fincher and his editors (Angus Baxter and Kirk Baxter) deftly incorporate into their dazzling narrative stream.

Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth film that first scene in a curiously sepulchral light, and the spookiness hinted at by that lighting scheme recurs in other forms later on, most significantly in the film’s portrayal of Zuckerberg as a mysteriously remote figure—a quick mind capable of brilliant insights but somehow out of touch with some of the most basic emotions. Eisenberg is excellent with the character’s nerdy brilliance, and Fincher evokes the guy’s increasingly creepy blind spots via deadpan close-ups that leave the actor’s eyes in darkness.

Zuckerberg’s struggles and misadventures with assorted friends, collaborators and rivals is the main thrust of the tale, but The Social Network takes on an extra dimension of energy and interest when Napster founder Sean Parker (a roistering Justin Timberlake) comes into the story midway. Timberlake’s Parker does double duty as a foil to both the zealously abstemious Zuckerberg and to the latter’s loyal but neglected friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin (played with easy warmth by Andrew Garfield).

Timberlake delivers the most impressive of the film’s supporting performances, but Garfield’s is genuinely, and doubly, supportive as well. Armie Hammer is a lively presence as the more demonstrative of the Winkelvoss twins, Zuckerberg’s rich-boy rivals at Harvard. And Rooney Mara, who was sharp in that opening scene, is even better in a late scene with a semi-apologetic Zuckerberg.