Steve Jobs. The name is praised for limitless inspirational tenacity on one end, and serves as a grumbling pejorative on the other. To portray his psyche without imploding, one would need an accurate set of facts, and – perhaps more importantly – an intelligent understanding of difficult people.
Director Danny Boyle teamed up with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to do just this in the eponymous biopic of the notorious CEO who brought Apple into fruition, got fired from his own creation, and won himself back into the company with respect after prime humiliation. This is all in one lifetime. And to follow this timeline, the structure of the film is built with three acts echoing Jobs’ career moves and the drama that unfolds.
We are introduced to Jobs the way he is right away – straightforward, emotionally null, a soulless careerist in his element. This is Jobs before the world of Mac exploded – all he could see at the time was innovation and his standing on the brink of changing the world. Distractions were annoying and unacceptable – even the questioning of his paternity to an at-the-time young Lisa Brennan-Jobs. “My dad named a computer after me,” Lisa says to Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Jobs’ right-hand marketing expert. Jobs, irritated and about to insist to a child of his wrongfully identified paternity, responds to her: “Do you know what a coincidence is, Lisa? Like if you met someone, made a new friend and her name was Lisa, too. That would be a coincidence. LISA stands for “Local Integrated Systems Architecture.” L-I-S-A. It’s a coincidence.” This is the complicated, brilliant asshole of a man we’re dealing with.
Whether Michael Fassbender did Jobs’ complexities justice wavers throughout the film. He delivered Jobs’ nerdtastic quips with pithy panache, but that somehow gave more credit to Sorkin’s script’s cleverness than it did Fassbender’s acting chops. Jobs is tall, intimidating, socially polarizing and tragically charismatic – “poorly made,” as he self-proclaims to Lisa while attempting to explain his personal deficiencies. Fassbender’s naturally muscle-y slim tall guy stature made for the easy half of Jobs’ portrayal in the film, but the frat bro vibe he exudes has difficulty to be shaken. It’s like trying to mask a stench with one spritz of flowery perfume; the underlying layer is undeniably still there. Kate Winslet balances all the male-centric energy as Joanna. She is Mother Bear to Jobs’ petulant competitiveness and carries Joanna’s character righteously without letting the star power that is, well, Kate Winslet blind her character. The two lead an intriguing work-couple dynamic: Joanna fanning the flames to Jobs’ polarity; Jobs allowing himself to get checked by the motherly I’ll-guide-you energy that is Joanna. It’s a dynamic of mutual respect for each other’s roles; Winslet and Fassbender make it work for the most part.
Steve Jobs was structured but chiseled enough to show audiences that – for Jobs’ story – showing a timeline was necessary and made sense. The film had a beginning, a middle, and an end – all with quick banter between Joanna and Jobs to move the storyline along; all with intermittent cut-ins with a growing Lisa and Steve “Woz” Wozniak, played by the ever-affable Seth Rogen, for human undertones bonus points. Scenes like Jobs’ firing from Apple on a late rainstormy night with a single light illuminating chairmen’s faces like kids around a campfire felt cringe-worthy. But these flaws were part of the film’s gems, too. The aforementioned firing scene on a dark and stormy night was smartly edited into split sequences of John Scully (Jeff Daniels) confronting Jobs years after he was fired. The editing was like a staccato ping-pong game bouncing between scenes of betrayal versus amendment. Jobs and Scully’s wordy argument in this scene should have felt cumbersome to take in all at once, but it didn’t; the scene’s theatrics saved it from being so.
As far as biopics go, Steve Jobs was decidedly accurate enough with ample dramatization to make for entertainment value. He is a complex character to understand, and with each viewing, we can understand Jobs’ psyche more and more. Next time, though, we’ll just leave out all the rain.
Written by Dara Kim