Title: Steve Jobs
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Homer: "The 'US Festival!' Geez! It was sponsored by the guy from Apple Computers.
Clerk: "What computers?"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three and a half rainbow beach balls of death out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Visionary asshole finds humanity, success.
Tagline: None. Try to "think different" about the possibilities.
Better Tagline: "We are family, except for the daughter I inexplicably refused to acknowledge."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Through the course of three product roll-outs — the Macintosh (1984), NeXT (1988) and the iMac (1998) — we learn of the motivations of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender), mostly through his conversations/fights with confidant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), fellow co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), mother of his daughter Lisa. These conflicts and resolutions, spanning his career at Apple, subsequent departure and victorious return, shaped Jobs as both an innovator and a person.
"Critical" Analysis: To paraphrase the venerable scholars of the Internet: I see what Danny Boyle did there.
Boyle, the director of Steve Jobs and a man not unaware of symbolism and metaphor, desperately wants to tie the man's eventual triumphs to his eventual acceptance of his daughter, whom he spends the first two acts alternately dismissing or ignoring outright. These two acts, not coincidentally, chronicle the failure of the Macintosh (and Jobs's eventual ouster from Apple) and the doomed launch of the NeXT workstation.
NeXT led to Jobs coming back to Apple (owing more to NeXT's object-oriented programming and GUI than anything else, but more on that later), where he would lead the company back from the brink of insolvency, developing the wildly successful iMac and, oh yeah, burying the hatchet with daughter Lisa, now 19 years old and attending Harvard. Pretty inspiring character arc.
And also largely bullshit.
Not to take away from what Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have accomplished, mind you. Steve Jobs is a compelling film, full of crackling dialogue and powerful moments. From the opening scene, in which Jobs berates his engineer (a terminally put-upon Michael Stuhlbarg) to get the Macintosh to say, "Hello," to the climactic conversation with Wozniak and reconciliation with Lisa, you're wholly engrossed by what's unfolding onscreen. Credit to Boyle, Sorkin (whose work I've goofed on in the past) and the cast, there hasn't been a movie about computers this riveting since…Hackers? War Games? And this doesn't even have a race against nuclear Armageddon.
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And to be fair, Fassbender is as good here as he's ever been. I acknowledge his powerful turns in Shame and 12 Years a Slave, but at no point during Steve Jobs did I not fully buy into his performance. Then again, the cast in general helps carry everything along. Winslet...well, she's Winslet. I don't know anything I've seen her in going back to Beautiful Creatures where she wasn't fantastic (Titanic wasn't her fault, dammit), and Waterston and Daniels hold their own as well. I'm not buying Rogen, unfortunately, because — physical resemblance aside — his Woz is basically "Seth Rogen with a side of autistic spectrum."
Now, unlike with movies with similar biographical problems (American Sniper), I don't feel like Jobs in real life was less thoughtful/introspective than portrayed here. However, many of the events depicted — including the backstage conversations between Jobs and Sculley/Wozniak, including Woz's forceful declaration that one can be both decent and gifted, or that the NeXT project was a long con to get Jobs back into Apple — are complete bullshit.
And because Boyle's redemption agenda is so obvious, the climactic moment ultimately falls flat. By the time we get to Wozniak's "It's not binary" comment (computer reference!), it's clear Jobs's only hope of salvation is to make things right with his daughter, which of course he does. Cue thunderous Apple Special Event applause as Lisa beams from backstage. Except Lisa lived with Jobs during high school, and their reconciliation actually came years earlier, shortly after he left Apple.
Does any of this matter? It depends on how much you want the movie to rise above hagiography. Because when it comes down to it, Steve Jobs works much better as a "series of dramatic re-enactments" than as a biopic.