Steve Jobs

I have come to the conclusion that all biopics have the same theme: The quality that makes someone great is also the thing that makes him or her unhappy. You see it in very biopic, even ones of fictional characters like Citizen Kane or There Will Be Blood. Drive, ambition and single minded devotion to achievement is what pushes other people away. Is this true in reality? Who knows? There are undoubtedly sacrifices to be made in order to accomplish something great or make history. I have no idea if they inevitably lead to misery. I do know that they don’t make biopics about librarians or accountants.
The movie, Steve Jobs is about the titular character as played by Michael Fassbender. It has three acts, taking us through three product launches. Backstage, people confront Jobs about the sins he has committed against them. He had a daughter out of wedlock that he refused to acknowledge. He didn’t credit Steve Wozniak and his team for the work they did on the Apple II. All of this is done in Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent and fast-paced dialog.
Working within this three act structure, director Danny Boyle, differentiates each era with different film stocks, staring on 16mm film in 1984 for the launch of the Mackintosh. Next comes wide screen 35mm for the 1988 launch of the NeXT Cube, a flop during Jobs’ exile from Apple. And finally the 1998 launch of the iMac is done in high definition digital video.
Obviously Sorkin and Boyle see these periods as turning points in Jobs’ life, not necessarily the most important moments in Apple’s corporate history, or even in the history of personal computers. The iPod, iPhone, iPad and other game changing innovations are all in the future.
Reading that description, you would think that the film is not very cinematic and you’d right. What saves it is that the dialog is so sharp, funny and clear that it moves the—well, you can’t really call it a story—narrative along. Also Sorkin and Boyle use the old Sorkin trick of people walking and talking. Jobs meanders back stage at the various venues, having his arguments and hissy fits with various underlings and trying to deal with his daughter Lisa and her mother Chrisann Brennan played by Katherine Waterston. But he’s always doing something else at the same time as if his mind is just too big and powerful to only do one thing.
Michael Fassbender, by the way is riveting as Jobs, even though he looks nothing like the man. He plays Jobs as an impossibly opaque thinker, always several steps ahead of everybody else. But every once in a while he lets a little vulnerability show through. There’s a scene on top of a parking garage with his daughter Lisa, played at that point by Perla Haney-Jardine, where he admits that he named an operating system, L.I.S.A. after her. When she asks him why he denied it when she was a kid, he says, “I don’t know.” His motivations are so complex, even he can’t puzzle them out.
There are three sort of murky plot threads that run through the film. The most compelling is his relationship with his daughter. At first he tries to keep her at a distance, but as she grows up and becomes an obviously smart and increasingly more articulate young lady, he begins to melt. There are three actresses who play Lisa over the years. I already mentioned Perla Haney-Jardine who plays her at nineteen. Ripley Sobo plays her at nine and Mackenzie Moss plays her at five. All of them do a great job.
Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, his long-suffering aide and conscience. She’s the only person who can nag Jobs and get away with it. Her performance is so good and immersive, I didn’t realize it was her until well into the film and I am a big Kate Winslet fan. Seth Rogan plays Steve Wozniak and doesn’t really make you forget that he’s Seth Rogan but it’s still a pretty good performance. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Andy Hertzfeld and delivers another immersive performance. I didn’t realize it was him, and Jeff Daniels plays Apple CEO John Sculley. At no point in the film did I doubt that it was Jeff Daniels but the role was perfect for Jeff Daniels so it worked out. All of these characters have problems with the difficult Jobs and the common thread is that they love him in spite of the horrible things he says and does. At one point Jobs tells Wozniak, “You always get a pass.” In fact it’s Jobs who always gets the pass. Talent and charisma lets him get away with almost everything.
Does it make him happy? Well that’s another story.


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October 2015
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