Do you like meetings? Are you one of those people who would line up for one of those large product launch announcements? Are you a fan of Apple products? Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” is all about the man behind the show, the man making the announcements with his personal life sometimes interfering with his ambitious presentations and his friendships often left in tatters. In Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent scripting, Jobs’ humanity is ultimately saved by his first child, Lisa, via intervention by his “work wife.”
There’s a lot of things left out in between, but let me admit that I’ve never owned any kind of a computer besides an Apple product. I’ve worked on a PC as part of my job, but I’ve alway bought my own personal computer from Apple. I am a fan, so perhaps I, too, have bought into the Steve Jobs’ vision of the world and been seduced by the sleek appearance of the products. I often say to myself, “Think different” (as opposed to “Think differently”) when faced with a problem. That is, in many respects, due to Steve Jobs and Apple.
Having seen Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” along with the 2011 “Steve Jobs: One Last Thing” and “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” from 2012, I am not a Steve Jobs fan. I find “The Woz” or Steve Wozniak a more attractive personality. Boyle’s aim is not to make us like this irritating man, once characterized as a street bully by someone who knew him, but to understand and perhaps empathize with him.
To do so, we see Jobs (Michael Fassbender) doing what he did best: Selling Apple as a company and as a culture during three iconic product launches: the 1984 Macintosh, the NeXT black cube, and the 1998 unveiling of the iMac. While the official website claims this is “an intimate portrait of the brilliant man at its epicenter,” this isn’t really about his personal life but more about his personal relationships with his co-workers including Apple, Inc., co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) along with his very public and often cruel relationship with his former girlfriend, Chrisanne Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and the daughter she had by him, Lisa Brennan (Makenzie Moss as Lisa at 5 and Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa at 19). He blames Brennan for his lost chance at being Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, instead of seeing himself as unworthy.
We see Jobs’ disregard for vital members of Apple, in particular the team behind the Apple II and how his work wife, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, almost unrecognizable) attempted to temper Jobs actions and harsh demands, particularly toward Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhibarg), a member of the original Apple team. In the beginning, Jobs seeks solace from John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the man who was CEO for Apple 1983 to 1993 and the question of family is brought up, but not so much about the father who raised Jobs as an adopted child.
Fassbender is intensely intelligent as Jobs and battles with everyone, most fiercely with Hoffman who is the voice of reason but also often left out in the cold from Jobs’ strategies. Winslet is strong, fast talking and strangely devoted as Hoffman. Oh, one wishes that relationship was explored more thoroughly.
There are a few things you might miss and misunderstand. Jobs did find his birth mother and make contact, but only after his adoptive mother had died and with his adoptive father’s permission. He never contacted his birth father, but he did visit his birth mother and learned about his younger sister, Mona, whom Brennan credited with repairing the relationship between Jobs and his first child, Lisa. After he left Apple, Brennan has said, Jobs apologized many times. Brennan did write a book, “The Bite in the Apple,” that was published in 2013 after Jobs’ death.
Brennan went on to become a painter, with murals in major hospitals. In this movie, however, she does not come off that well. Waterston’s Brennan is tremulous and needy, and there’s also a slightest suggestion of instability–more in what Fassbender’s Jobs says about her in the end of the movie.
Jobs married in 1991. So by the time, Lisa entered Harvard in 1996, Jobs was married and they had children (Reed in 1991, Erin in 1995. The last child, Eve, would be born in 1998. Jobs’ adoptive father, Paul, died in 1993. If Lisa was living with Jobs during her high school years, then she would have known Jobs’ wife, (née Laurene Powell) and her half-siblings.
Yet we don’t really expect movie like this to be documentaries. This is Steve Jobs with a dramatic license and while there’s an essential coldness and impersonal nature to this portrayal of Jobs as a showman, we see him in his work, doing what made him famous. In the documentary, “Steve Jobs: One Last Thing,” there’s talk about the phases of one’s work relationship with Jobs: seduction when he needs you, the cold shoulder when he doesn’t and the vicious scourging when he no longer had a use. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay (based on Walter Isaacson’s book) takes us through all these phases by using the three product launches while simplifying Jobs’ relationship with the important women in his life, in some cases by not even mentioning them.
“Steve Jobs” is worth seeing for the performances of Fassbender and Winslet and for Sorkin’s scripting and Boyle’s vision. Winslet’s Hoffman is a fierce, intelligent character, an equal to Fassbender’s Jobs and how often does that happen in a Hollywood movie?
Is this movie worthy of Jobs? The Woz approved of the rough cut version he saw, telling Pete Hammond of Deadline.com, “I felt like I was actually watching him.” So despite the historical inaccuracies and deletion of some real people, Fassbender, Sorkin and Boyle have gotten to the emotional truth of a complicated man. Meetings of the minds can make a fascinating movie and makes you think they are more interesting back stage than on stage.