Give screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle credit for making a biopic that skirts tradition. Give them demerits for the Aaron Sorkin-ness and the non-Danny Boyle-ness of it all.
Sorkin has written a screenplay that resembles a three-act play (he did start his career as a playwright). And he has filled it with all the things Sorkin fans love. There’s the rapid-fire dialogue in which each character speaks in the same voice, sometimes even speaking the same sentences in the same scene (“I don’t know what that means” is a big one). There is the blocking that dictates the actors must almost always be on the move (in those moments, Boyle channels his inner Thomas Schlamme, director of many episodes of The West Wing, but Boyle thankfully leaves out the hot spots).
Most exhaustingly, Sorkin deploys the writerly contrivance of setting all the action moments before Big Events—the product launches of the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. You know what’s perfect for ramping up the tension, kids? When the main character has a finite amount of time to resolve a bunch of personal and professional problems before he has to talk to thousands of punters about his latest gizmo!
Steve Jobs focuses on Jobs (Michael Fassbender, who looks and sounds nothing like the Apple co-founder but gives a decent performance) and his shitty personal relationships with his daughter Lisa, her mother Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), his put-upon employee Joanna (Kate Winslet), Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and Apple guru Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). Learn about Jobs’ feelings about his two adoptions, his biological father, his treatment of the Apple II team, his dismissal from Apple, his terrible parenting skills and his complete lack of empathy.
Or don’t. Few of the moments in this movie happened the way they’re rolled out here—what are the odds that every intimate crisis a person has ever had will need to be ironed out in the 40 minutes before a product launch? Or before three product launches?
It isn’t all bad. Rogen is a charming Wozniak, and there’s a dynamite scene in the movie’s NeXT section between Fassbender and Jeff Daniels, who plays former Apple CEO John Sculley. If there had been more moments like the Jobs/Sculley scenes and fewer like all the others, Steve Jobs would be much, much better. As it is, it’s pretty humdrum.
But Steve Jobs will find its audience; it’s for people who love Aaron Sorkin’s work or love Steve Jobs but weren’t satisfied with (or poisoned by) the terrible Ashton Kutcher flick Jobs or the completely unnecessary documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (at least that one gets its facts straight).
Not that movie biopics need to get facts straight. It’s just that when so many facts about the main character are public record and the movie more or less ignores them, what’s the point? Steve Jobs could be about anyone. Change the product names and the guy’s name and it’s a story of a genius jerk, and we already have Citizen Kane, right?
Directed by Danny Boyle
With Fassbender, Winslet and Rogen
Regal Stadium 14; Violet Crown Cinema