Does 'Social Network' have a shot at Oscar?

THR analyzes Facebook movie's chances at awards glory

THR's Jay A. Fernandez has seen "The Social Network." Below is his take on the film's prospects.

"The Social Network" pulls off a nifty trick not unlike that of its subject, Mark Zuckerberg: Despite the ugliness involved, this could kill with young people.

Although it revolves around several unlikable characters, the film is funny, sexy, engaging and true in its depiction of the often vindictive dramas of college-age kids (if particularly privileged and brilliant ones, in this case). Most elementally, "Social" is the saga of an awkward and ambitious kid who succeeded, on a massive scale, without a Disney TV contract or the ability to score 40 points a game -- just like 99.99% of the site's 500 million users.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg might act distastefully at times and lose far too many battles with his worst instincts, but he's eminently recognizable and thus sympathetic. Perpetually defensive, empowered only by his brains, consumed with envy -- he's an underdog who is more than willing to bite friend and enemy alike to keep himself from feeling small or inadequate.

Thus the film makes a direct connection between the desire for coming up with a new, great idea that will bring power and money and influence and the desire for sex/love. This is made most explicit during a sequence in which two girls invite Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin out for drinks upon discovering that they invented "The Facebook" and then get down with them -- and go down on them -- in the stalls of the men's bathroom.

As they wait for the girls to tidy up afterward, we are treated to one of Zuckerberg's rare smiles as Saverin leans over and says, with as much awe as satisfaction, "We have groupies." And despite the characters' less classy qualities -- they are teenagers -- young audiences are likely to cheer for their triumphs.

David Fincher shrewdly lays out the story in a style likely to appeal to that demo: a shifting time structure, a visual approach that accentuates a casually lived-in sense of stupid debauchery and a soundtrack true to the period.

The lack of likability of some of the characters is likely to be less of an obstacle for older voters than the technical jargon that peppers the early scenes, as computer geeks sit around, play video games and drink cheap beer.

Friendster, coding, "wired in" -- the whole context and its lingo will be a real turnoff for many Academy members born before 1970. That's why the artfully choreographed dance of loyalties and betrayals among the three main characters -- really, a classic love triangle without the romance -- is so important.

And it's all done elegantly by two real grown-ups: Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. The narrative arcs are cleverly intertwined with the emotional arcs by Sorkin's script. And it's the most emotional film Fincher has made -- much more so than "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Voters of all stripes might be ready to reward a master filmmaker who finally let some light in.

Despite the potential dryness of the material, it also is Fincher's warmest film. It's genuinely funny, full of Sorkin-esque rat-a-tat-tat dialogue -- including a marvelous curlicue conversation that opens in the movie -- that veers from confrontation to wit to aggressive displays of knowledge and/or influence with whirlwind aplomb. And the visual gimmicks are kept to a minimum, though the material invited all kinds of razzle-dazzle.

But that's the key to Facebook, too. Invite people to participate in something simple and straightforward that they can see really themselves and their world in. And then sit back and wait for them to tell their friends and for those people to tell their friends and for those people to tell their friends and ...
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