Steve Jobs (2015)

Directed by Danny Boyle

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Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is operatic and a bit silly.  It tells the story of Steve Jobs’ career at Apple through three long sequences leading up to a product launch.  In each case his conversations (Aaron Sorkin going full Sorkin with all the snappy “walk and talks”) take place in the wings off of a large stage, with the growing audience always looming around the corner.  There is an instant dichotomy between public and private, with all of this drama unfolding as he prepares to put on his persona and channel it into the sale of a computer which he wants to be more personable than he seems capable of being himself.

It’s quite fascinating but so boldly soap opera-y.  In each of the three phases of the story (told between 1984 and 1998) Jobs (Michael Fassbender) interacts with and old girlfriend, Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), a designer (Michael Stuhlberg), Woz (Seth Rogen), his head of marketing, Joanna (Kate Winslet), a father figure John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and most importantly his daughter.  It’s a character who might as well be talking to the ghosts of his past and present before the single most important moment of his career, again and again.

And that’s all well and good, but I had a hard time accepting that surrealism when faced with a character based on a real person whose image is iconographic.  It just felt a bit absurd even if the themes being covered were quite compelling.

The story focuses on Jobs’ relationship with several of the characters mentioned above.  He’s not very likable, and he pushes away those closest to him.  The person who knows him best, outside of Joanna, might be a local reporter who keeps pressing him for information.

So he’s aloof and withdrawn and certainly demanding, and yet he is so focused on making a computer that is personable in a way technology wasn’t at the time.  In the first act he demands that the computer be able to say “hello” to the audience when he introduces it onstage.

It’s an interesting idea for a character, to be so focused on making a computer personable while himself incapable of such similar qualities, but that can only carry the movie so far.  This being Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin and a bunch of talented actors there is an undeniable energy to the way they speak and move, but the content of their conversation never seemed to amount to much.

It had to deal with perceived grievances and love lost between characters I didn’t feel like I ever really got to know.  So while individual moments may have been interesting to listen to, I found it hard to care for Sculley or Woz or even Jobs himself, no matter how good the performances.

So this is an interesting movie because it refuses the traditional biopic structure in favor of three highly-condensed moments in his life, with timelines surely rewritten so that every important character would be present in each act, but it never felt like much more than an experiment made by a bunch of talented people.

Up Next: Up in the Air (2009), The Farewell (2019), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

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