When Steve Jobs died in 2011, there was an immediate scramble to see who would be the first to pull the trigger on a movie about the Apple co-founder. One of the first was the much derided “Jobs,” starring Ashton Kutcher, which is an interesting case study on an actor who seemed so sure that he was killing it despite the utter mediocrity of the project.
The Aaron Sorkin penned film, cleverly entitled, “Steve Jobs,” tries to trump traditional biopic norms as the latest character study of the man we credit for iPhones. Instead of portraying Jobs’ life as a whole, Sorkin uses the launches of three products — the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998 — as the lens through which the film comes to know Jobs — played by Academy award nominee, Michael Fassbender — and his relationships with key people in his life. What happens, though, when the film is intent on showing an egomaniacal soul-less Jobs and selling him as a superhero, is something with as much genuine humanity as a computer.
This is Sorkin’s second film about an apathetic billionaire who made his fortune in the technology world, but with David Fincher’s cold and distant direction in “The Social Network,” the antipathy toward human emotions works in relation to the film. “Steve Jobs” director Danny Boyle’s predilection to showing the spirituality of man combats negatively with Sorkin’s portrait Jobs.
Setting the story over three events hinders the film’s narrative progression due to pure absurdity. Heart to heart conversations are conveniently taking place around each major Apple release, settling story lines from the previous events and, in turn, are absurd when combined with Boyle’s idealistic style. For heavily lauded screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, this structure feels like it would work best onstage, or with a filmmaker who works in a more minimal style — something the boisterous Danny Boyle have never been able to do.
In each setting, Jobs is trying to navigate between the launch of a new product and interpersonal relationships — from settling final marketing decisions with his chief marketing “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), debating whether to give credit to the much-ignored Steve Wozniack (Seth Rogen), or finding advice from the faux father figure he never had in the former CEO of Apple, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). But, the film is framed around the central father-daughter relationship between Steve Jobs and his out-of-wedlock daughter, Lisa.
And to give the movie credit, Jobs is shown to be a grade-A prick — a genius of a prick, but a prick nonetheless. He denies his biological relationship with Lisa throughout the film, refuses to acknowledge the work of Wozniack and the Apple 2 team — the computer that kept the company afloat during their biggest struggles, and definitely shaved off years from Hoffman’s life due to stress, alone. Fassbender finds the pitch for Jobs’ mannerisms and quiet temperament, because nobody gets his vision, as he is constantly being quelled by himself.
But the character who is portrayed is not Jobs. It is a character piece for sure, but the character being portrayed is not Steve Jobs. Rather, Sorkin had created an amalgamation using pieces of Jobs’ life to create this mythical, modern god-like figure with human flaws. He wants to praise him for all his perfection, yet remind us that he is an extremely flawed human being. The disparity between these two images really makes the movie bottom out. At the end, despite all the mistreatment, there is a scene in which Jobs and another character make up and it is the most earnest, unearned moment I have seen in a long time. Steve Jobs is the closest thing our generation had to a real-life superhero. Thus, like a comic book movie, there needs to be a tidy ending in which every conflict is solved. A superhero cannot lose at the end.
Since his death, Steve Jobs’ mythology has only grown. The movie seems to want to honor this myth as much as it wants to show the human side of Jobs. That sweet spot of balance is rarely achieved, and “Steve Jobs” can be added to that list. At one point in the film, Jobs pointedly and face-palmingly says, as if the thesis of the film, “I am a flawed product.” What a perfect summation.