The more I think about Steve Jobs, the more I realize it’s a really oddball movie. As I write this, it’s been more than a week since I saw the film (the New York Film Festival’s centerpiece presentation on Saturday), and I think about it a lot more than I thought I would when it ended. (I will try to explain that confusing sentence.) Steve Jobs is so dense with information compacted into what amounts to three vignettes of Jobs’ life over a 15-year span, it almost tricked me into thinking it’s not a full-on biopic. But all the information of a regular biopic is there, it’s just served concentrated. It’s in the days that follow when we start adding water to what we were given — in an effort to get to what this movie is actually supposed to taste like.
(Analogies! Also, I considered writing down my thoughts immediately after seeing the film, then writing a follow-up a few days later, then writing the rest of this review right now –- as a kind of mirror to the way the film gives us a glimpse of Jobs at three separate times in his life… but then I decided that was stupid. Though, it would have at least showed my appreciation for Steve Jobs growing the further I get away from it.)
Going in, I knew Aaron Sorkin’s script would divide the film up into three key moments of Jobs’ life. What I didn’t realize was just how specific those moments would be: Namely, three moments right before Jobs is to give important presentations for the Macintosh, NeXT computer, and the iMac, respectively. So, yes, in each act, Jobs is preparing for a speech and is surrounded by mostly the same people, but his relationships with each have changed each time.
When we first meet Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, who looks more and more like Jobs as the movie goes along, but nails the voice from the very beginning), everything is pretty optimistic! Well, other than the fact that his new Macintosh keeps crashing when it’s suppose to say “Hello,” which causes that infamous dickish side of Jobs to surface as he threatens to verbally undress Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) in front of thousands of people unless his new computer says “Hello.” (It’s kind of remarkable how much drama comes out of this otherwise pleasant greeting.)
Oh, also, the mother of his child — a child who, at this point, Jobs refuses to even admit is his biological daughter, despite a test saying the opposite — wants the immensely wealthy Jobs to help them get off of welfare. It’s this relationship between Jobs and his estranged daughter, Lisa (played by three different actresses over the course of the film), that becomes the most compelling aspect of Steve Jobs. It’s the film’s emotional heart while the rest of the characters spout off things about processing speeds and corporate politics. It’s this relationship — a relationship that in the press has always been reported as almost non-existent — that makes Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs human.
Joanna Hoffman is Kate Winslet’s best role since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — I realize Winslet won an Oscar for The Reader, but the less we talk about that movie, the better — to the point that I kept forgetting that it’s Winslet. Hoffman, a close work confidant, is the closest thing we see to Jobs having a human friend. She is vital to this movie because she provides an entryway into a story about a man who may as well be part machine. Steve Jobs, as presented in Steve Jobs, is not a “lovable” person. But Hoffman, by proxy, gives him warmth.
The second-closest person Steve Jobs has to a friend is Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), whom Jobs treats more like a dysfunctional, but lovable scamp than a true friend. Their relationship is compelling, and in the middle act, Rogen gets a true “I’m going for it!” acting moment. Rogen is kind of perfect for this role because we instinctively like him, which is the opposite of the analytical Jobs we spend the most time with. We want Steve Jobs to listen to Woz, but he never does because Steve Jobs listens to nobody but himself, and sometimes Hoffman.