The Hippo


May 29, 2020








Steve Jobs (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

The Apple co-founder is — gasp — a big jerk in Steve Jobs, a character study of the turtleneck-wearing master (eventually) of selling personal tech from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and, sure, director Danny Boyle.

But, honestly, we’re mostly going to be blaming Aaron Sorkin for this.
Actually, I liked and was annoyed by the structure of Steve Jobs, which confines itself to spending time with the man at three different product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT black cube thing in 1988 and the jelly bean-ish iMac in 1998. At each launch, we see Steve (Michael Fassbender) interact with his longtime head of marketing/personal babysitter Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), tech guy Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and her daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss in 1984, Ripley Sobo in 1988 and Perla Haney-Jardine in 1998), who is also Jobs’ daughter, though he doesn’t acknowledge that in the 1984 scenes. I kind of liked not having to painstakingly walk through the Jobs-discovers-computers scenes. The movie employs flashbacks when necessary but otherwise assumes we know enough to get by and fills in exposition along the way. So, that’s of the good. But it’s also a weirdly stilted set-up — why are all the important conversations, including serious questioning of the product about to be launched, taking place in the 20 minutes before he goes on stage? Because story structure, the movie replies, just go with it. And while I can, this movie has a fair amount of stuff it requires the viewer to “just go with.” 
I think one could argue that the three products are set up to show three sides to Jobs’ approach to business. The Macintosh is an attempt to create a lovable personal computer that everybody will want to have in their homes and that even a neglected five-year-old can use, as we see when Lisa finds the Apple Paint and creates some doodle that still can’t quite melt Jobs’ heart enough. The NeXT box, from his years after being ousted by Sculley, is an example of Jobs’ obsession with design and a cynical move to create an operating system that will make Apple want to buy him out and bring him back. The iMac represents the marriage of design and useability and, perhaps, a more realistic approach to selling expensive computers to people, and it is the start of his golden age. At least, this is what I took from the movie. 
I also took from the movie that he was a pretty big, well, rhymes with “grass roll” throughout the course of his life and, while his understanding of how people used computers might have evolved somewhat, his understanding of people themselves didn’t do all that much growing. While he acknowledges his daughter in the two later set pieces, he still doesn’t seems to actually understand what it means to be a parent. 
So this makes for an odd movie — a central character who doesn’t really grow or change and a bunch of rat-a-tat Sorkin conversation which, normally, I’m rather a fan of but here doesn’t have the usual pop and sparkle (the way, say, The Social Network did). And a lot of those conversations feel the same, that is to say that the conversations the Steves, Jobs and Wozniak, have in 1984 is very similar to the ones they have in 1988 and in 1998. And this is by design, but still, I’m a person in a movie theater watching two people have a variation on the same conversation three times. Makes one appreciate the fast-forward button.
The movie also reminded me of how unlikeable Apple and its idiosyncratic products and some of its insufferable fans could be in the pre-iPod era. And I say this as someone who has Apple products now and likes them. But the sensation was odd. Normally a movie about, say, Ray Charles makes me want to go home and listen to some Ray Charles, even if I haven’t been a lifelong Ray Charles fan. This movie about Apple’s creator made me want to take a break from my iTunes account.
Though I don’t normally read reviews of movies before I see them, I did catch some of a conversation about Steve Jobs on the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. They talked about how the movie indulged in some of Sorkin’s most Sorkiny impulses — setting up a character of the Great But Misunderstood Man and his Female Helpmate. This familiar trope doesn’t always bother me in Sorkin works, but it did here. As the podcast gang pointed out, the movie sets up Jobs as a jerk and a talented but far-from-infallible creator of stuff — and then ends, ends with the satisfied air of a movie that has now made you understand and appreciate Jobs, warts and all. Huh, I thought as the movie ended, really? Your Great Man feels less like somebody I’m psyched to watch a movie about and more like somebody whose phone calls I want to dodge.
I guess as biopics about Steve Jobs go, Steve Jobs isn’t the worst. It’s probably better than 2013’s Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher if for no other reason than that Fassbender is a more compelling actor than Kutcher and Rogen is a more backbone-y Wozniak than Josh Gad. (Interestingly, both movies end early in the final act of Jobs — this movie with the iMac and Jobs with 2001’s iPod launch. The products that have made Apple a part of the modern tech landscape and not just a piece of 1980s nostalgia came during those last dozen-some years of his life. Clearly successful Jobs does not offer the narrative possibilities of early Apple/wilderness years Jobs.) Everybody here is a solid actor doing a solid performance even if I didn’t always love the dialogue. B-
Rated R for language. Directed by Danny Boyle with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (from the book by Walter Isaacson), Steve Jobs is two hours and 2 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures. 


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