Cecile Pin reviews Danny Boyle’s much awaited Steve Jobs biopic
“You look good today.”
“Michael Fassbender’s here. I have to.”
Eavesdropping shamelessly, I hear this snippet of dialogue between two journalists, right in the middle of the Steve Jobs press screening and conference.
Such is the effect “The Fass” has on us all: turning fully-grown, professional journalists into eager fangirls.
Even though he looks nothing like the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, he manages to capture his essence on film. Swapping his native Irish accent for a smooth Californian one, Fassbender depicts Jobs as a ruthless, pompous and stubborn man. And yet we don’t hate him. This is probably due to the fact that we know the detestable treatment of his employees will result in Apple’s glorious, real life success. “Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra”, he says to Apple’s founder Steve Wozniak (played by Seth Rogen). The complexity of Job’s character is also due to Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant screenwriting: he manages to add subtle touches of humanity to the man, thanks to conversations regarding his adoption, and his relationship with his daughter Lisa.
At the press conference, Danny Boyle tells us how the script, which is unusually long, contained no directions for the actors or the director: just pages upon pages of witty and well-written dialogue. The result is a quick, but well-paced, drama with subtle touches of humour, and stacks of wit – think of a poppier Social Network (also written by Sorkin).
The film sometimes feels a bit overwhelmed by such a dense script. “Everything in this film is dialogue-driven,” Fassbender tells us. That’s definitely true: it’s basically two hours of people talking, of Steve Jobs being sassy and rude to everyone he interacts with. But thanks to winning performances by all of the main actors (especially Fassbender and Kate Winslet, who plays Jobs’ work-wife and confidant Joanna Hoffman), and Sorkin’s talent for writing these kinds of characters, the film is still highly enjoyable.
I should also mention that if you’re expecting a more conventional Steve Jobs biopic, you’ll be surprised: there’s no mention of his wife, nor of his recurring cancer. Rather, the film is written in three acts, each one taking place backstage at one of Jobs’ iconic product launches (of the Macintosh, the NeXTcube, and the iMac). We therefore stay indoors almost throughout the duration of the film, following Jobs and Joanna backstage. This gives a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere to the film, not unlike last year’s Academy Award winner Birdman.
This intensity is emphasised by the often-repeated topics of conversation Jobs has with the same people before each launch, in an almost obsessive way. Wozniak wants him to acknowledge the Apple II Computer, the company’s first microcomputer designed by Wozniack but despised by Jobs. His ex-girlfriend repeatedly asks him for money, and so on. Instead of a more traditional biographical tale, following the character throughout his life, we are given a partial but effective insight into Jobs’ being, and relationships with key people in his life. The most important one is without doubt his daughter Lisa: the film ends with a caring moment between the two, in one of the only scene that takes place outdoors. It is helpful in giving Jobs’ character some of his humanity back.
Jobs told Business Week in 1997: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Maybe by providing us with a highly entertaining film with great performances instead of a completely honest tale of the man’s life and character, Steve Jobs does just that.
Featured image credit: Official Steve Jobs poster