Steve Jobs Isn’t Your Average Biopic
By Allison Picurro
Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s take on the tech icon paints a singular portrait that stands on its own.
When Michael Fassbender was announced as the star of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs biopic — after a lengthy casting process that included the likes of Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio — his lack of resemblance dominated the conversation. Fassbender himself even acknowledged he didn’t look “anything” like the Apple co-founder. Casting actors who resemble the people they’re portraying is essentially Biopic 101, but Boyle (and writer Aaron Sorkin, who adapted the screenplay from Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of the same name) never set out to make a film that fit neatly within the conventions of the genre.
Similar to The Social Network, Sorkin’s previous biographical drama, Steve Jobs opens in the middle of an argument. It’s 1984, hours before the launch of the Macintosh computer, and Jobs is clashing with engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) and marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) over the computer’s failed voice demo. “It has to say ‘hello,’” Jobs insists over Hertzfeld’s warnings that it’s too complex a change to make in such a short period of time. It’s easy to forget who Fassbender is even playing until his character finally stalks off the stage and into his dressing room, where “Steve Jobs” is spelled out on the door. The scene is theatrical, dramatic and somewhat disorienting. Nothing is explained outright, but the film immediately trusts the audience to keep up.
The story’s pacing never slows, cycling through two more major launches (of the NeXT computer and the iMac) which could have easily turned into run-of-the-mill presentation scenes. Instead, we never see the products presented, only the moments leading up to their introduction, and the ways in which Jobs’ arrogance comes to a head.
Jobs is not perfect, something he’s aware of — “I’m poorly made,” he tells Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) — but unwilling to change. He’s self-important, dismissive and unkind to the people who love him, which is made most clear in the time he spends with his daughter Lisa (played at three different ages by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine), whom he refuses to acknowledge as his own until she’s well into her childhood. When she begs for his attention, he withholds. He doesn’t know how to be a father and an innovator, so he chooses innovator.
Those who knew the real Jobs — including the actual Wozniak and John Sculley (played by Jeff Daniels) — responded to the film with claims that it wasn’t historically correct and that Fassbender’s take on their friend wasn’t accurate. But those inaccuracies are part of the beauty of Steve Jobs: It might not have a pitch-perfect portrayal of the man himself, but it feels distinctly human in a way portraits of untouchable icons rarely do. It’s less about delving into the life of a celebrated cultural figure than it is about pulling back the curtain on the person behind all the pioneering.
In that way, Steve Jobs is like the Macintosh of biopics: technically exciting, distinct from its competition and undeniably flawed — a modern marvel that stands apart from the rest, for better or for worse.