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How to win friends and influence others 

David Fincher mines familiar territory, successfully, in Facebook flick.

click to enlarge 'THE SOCIAL NETWORK': Jesse Eisenberg stars
  • 'THE SOCIAL NETWORK': Jesse Eisenberg stars

A movie about Facebook. Sounds about as riveting as a game of Farmville.

You can find this and many other jokes like it on your nearest Internet. But of course "The Social Network" isn't about Facebook any more than "Wall Street" was about the stock market. It's about the making of billionaires and the irrevocable carpet-bombings of friendships and romances along the way.

For those of you not familiar with the story, Facebook was founded by a Harvard undergrad named Mark Zuckerberg, here played by Jesse Eisenberg. Zuckerberg either stole the idea from or was inspired by two other Harvard students, depending on your point of view. Along the way to worldwide fame and fortune, he and his legendary combination of arrogance and borderline Asperger's Syndrome managed to torpedo several relationships, most notably with Facebook's co-founder, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).

None of this is new or particularly riveting, if you know anything about Zuckerberg in particular or billionaires in general. Neither is it original source material for a film — "Citizen Kane" covered the same ground decades ago, and better.

Nor is Eisenberg's performance as Zuckerberg particularly noteworthy — it's good enough, but he's to dramas what Michael Cera is to comedies, forever evincing the same tics and mannerisms, forever playing variations on the same genus of nerd. Same wizard, different alignment.

While we're at it, let's point out how hard it is to feel terribly badly for often-condescending trust fund babies at Ivy League schools, watching the testing of their respective egos and seeing their anger over losing millions and forgetting the millions they'll undoubtedly find elsewhere (not really a spoiler: everyone walks away with a lot of money, Zuckerberg most of all).

And yet it works. It's a good story, solidly paced and capably acted. The script, penned by Aaron Sorkin ("West Wing"), occasionally blindsides you with genuinely hilarious moments without ruining the greater context of the scene. You may sometimes find it difficult to empathize with the characters, especially in times like these, but you will know in your bones what they have on the line here, and none of it has anything to do with money.

David Fincher's direction bears his usual marks: his favored color palettes, his fondness for lingering over sex and flesh and sensualism wherever he can find it (seriously, the man has a way of shooting wood paneling that makes it look like something that might get you drunk and take advantage of you), his general interest in mankind's viciousness, and of course his ability to make it all look damn good. This is among the best of his films, not stuff for the history books like "Se7en" or "Fight Club," but more subtly and maturely directed than either of those.

In short, it's well-trod ground, but they tread it well.

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