Movie review: ‘Steve Jobs’ is interesting, uncomfortable
Directed By Danny Boyle
Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Perla Haney-Jardine, Makenzie Moss
Rated R, Drama, 122 minutes
Informed by Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, this eponymous biopic is at once admirable in its construction and tough on Jobs in its revelations. Whether that combination adds up to entertainment is another matter altogether.
I’m usually excited to read more about the insights and philosophies of visionaries, but based upon what I learned, Jobs was a disappointment here. His arrogance overrode any need to explain his reasoning or to consider the feelings of anyone, including his family and staff. Being in his presence, at least in this film, is a dyspeptic, unsettling experience. He loves to argue and is virtually unbending in his perceptions. Not only does he demand that everyone endorse each aspect of his vision, he demands that everyone must agree with his ideas, such as “the consumer doesn’t know what he wants.”
Through his discussions with various associates, we learn that Jobs demands blind allegiance, regardless of the facts, and total support, regardless of the cost.
Played by Michael Fassbender, Jobs is a one-way street. Information flows from him, but it’s nearly impossible to impart information on him. He is, like the computers and phones he built, a closed system “end to end.”
Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay condenses a 626-page tome into three distinct events surrounding product launches from 1984 to 1998. Jobs interacts with the same handful of people at each launch, revealing his near inability to process anyone else’s circumstances, let alone their ideas.
His ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) is a troubled woman and a thorn in Jobs’ side who appears at the first two launches with their daughter Lisa. In 1984, Lisa is 5 years old (she is played successively by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine). Jobs denies paternity, citing what he believes to be an inconclusive 94.1 percent chance that he is the father. Chrisann admonishes, lectures and lets her rage fly as she attempts to persuade Jobs that she and Lisa are destitute. He’s worth $400 million in 1984, but getting him to part with a nickel more than the $335 dollars per month in child support mandated by the court seems futile. Jobs changes his mind but only after realizing Lisa is a kindred soul.
Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) appears at each launch. He desperately wants Jobs to publicly acknowledge and thank the Apple computer design team (lead by Woz) because the team was the creator of the product that makes the money enabling Steve to pursue his bigger dreams.
Also present is John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), who was initially recruited by Jobs from Pepsi to become Apple’s CEO. Jobs expects Sculley’s blind endorsement, however much it costs the company. When he doesn’t get it, Jobs is enraged.
Virtually tireless in her efforts to reason with Jobs is his near-constant companion Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who describes herself as his “work wife.” Jobs trusts her and treats her better than others. Winslet marvelously conveys Joanna’s inner battle not to foster Job’s acknowledgement of seemingly routine truths. She attempts to manage his oversize ego and expectations, but in her most successful moments, all she can do is temper his cruelty. By the third and final launch, she is angry and exasperated.
Finally, lead Mac tech Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) serves as a Jobs whipping boy time after time, yet Jobs is surprised when Hertzfeld informs his boss he has never liked him.
The film does touch on Jobs’ very early life. Initially adopted by an attorney and his wife, who returned the infant after one month, he was subsequently adopted by the Jobs, who were reluctant to form a loving attachment to him for his first year in their care, the period in which his biological mother could have reclaimed him. I mention this only because research shows a baby needs to bond very early in its life. Perhaps Jobs’ early situation caused him a lifetime of difficulties bonding and isolation. I can only speculate of course, but because his anomaly looms so large, it’s worth considering.
Beautifully acted by an ensemble that brings each character to life, the film is technically marvelous. Human beings come in all varieties, including those who are indifferent to their likability. As I watched the film, I wondered whether Jobs might have been more productive had he been more reasonable. Then again, had he been more reasonable, would Apple’s breakthroughs have occurred? Either way, I felt a sense of relief when the film ended. It’s an interesting movie, not an easy one.
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