Three words: Casting, Conflict & Compelling. The triumvirate of film, oh yes and that is why the film, 'The Social Network' is so well done.
In many ways, it is nothing special but that's precisely it's appeal; it doesn't try hard at all, it allows its characters to be on screen and breathe out their existence and conflicts without flashy film making. The biggest strength is easily the film's cast. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, with all the shades of a genius jerk without knowing that he is the latter half of that description; he displays a somewhat crumpled forehead as if he is constantly confused or just squinting out all the idiocy around him. What I loved was that the film starts with him getting dumped by his girlfriend and rightly so. Then starts the chain of events that leads to the phenomenon that is Facebook. Of course, it was because of girl! That's rather simplistic but it is what gets the ball rolling and there is some serious defiant determination in Zuckerberg - when he is approached by the Winklevoss twins and friend with their new internet idea, as soon as they admit they are from the rowing team, you got the distinct impression that Zuckerberg was going to bring them down, regardless. Underneath it all, he's just an insecure nerd who hates the popular and exclusive, desperate to get into secret clubs like Phoenix, right? So he creates his own exclusive club online (for all of those who remember Facebook starting the year they began uni in 2004 - and I was one of them - will recall how blissfully cool it was that it was only open to universities and not the rest of the world). Zuckerberg even holds a seemingly invisible grudge against his one true friend, Eduardo Saverin, who does get into Phoenix, played brilliantly by Adam Garfield, who I was already impressed by in his performance in 'The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus'. Even Justin Timberlake playing Sean Parker of Napster fame, was strong - not to mention the content was very comedic; watch out for the chicken eating chicken - again, not shown to us but the telling alone had the audience in stitches.
The structuring of the film was what placed all the parts together so well - the courtroom was where most of our characters reported on what happened, so taking us back to said flashbacks. This threw me at first but it was soon not a problem, once I realised there was two lawsuits to keep track of. Plot thickens...The sheer rapidity of Facebook's take off is well documented, with teenage interns and dodgy deals that break friendships to boot. What I admired was that the film didn't indulge in the whole success of Facebook in a glamorous way - we didn't have crazy montages, or trippy editing or an overbearing soundtrack - the closest it got was when Mark and Eduardo are hauled into the toilets for a little treat by two Asian girls. The house in California that Mark later sets up base hardly looked like the 'place to be.'
Oh and the comment I made about 'the girl' - I really wasn't off base, I mean the film ends on Zuckerberg, alone, tapping away at his laptop and refreshing the page to see if his ex has accepted his friend request. Oh yes, it was always about the girl. And it's a subtle nod to the fact that Facebook can't replace real social interactions, no matter how many users are signed up.