A Rotten Apple

“He got me invested in some kind of fruit company,” commented Forrest Gump as he read a letter emblazoned with a rainbow, partly-eaten apple. This fruit company—or to be more precise, Apple Computers—has swept across college campuses and the world with unparalleled speed. From MacBooks to iPods to iPhones to iPads, its success stems largely from its peculiarly iconoclastic founder, the late Steve Jobs. Danny Boyle’s film Steve Jobs attempts to recreate this icon’s story, tracing his professional relationship with Apple through three vignettes—each the launch of a new product—and spotlighting Jobs’ personal relationships with his daughter, her mother, and his friends and colleagues. Although the film takes an original, psychoanalytical approach to the biographical genre, it ultimately fails to convey a coherent analysis of Steve Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender, and likewise fails to show the critical role he played in Apple’s genesis and growth.

From the get-go, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs plays catch up. Jobs died in October 2011 and, within 16 months, Joshua Michael Stern had already directed the biopic Jobs, which details the story behind Steve Jobs and Apple, from its early days in his parents’ garage to the release of the first iPod. So not only was Steve Jobs beaten to the punch, but it also, consequently, felt the need to further differentiate itself from the traditional biographical Jobs by psychoanalyzing Jobs. This added pressure ultimately produces a disjointed examination of Jobs as a person, not to mention an even more muddled account of Jobs’ professional development.

By solely focusing on the psyche of Jobs, this lackluster film unfortunately creates massive contextual holes. I can honestly say that if I had not seen Stern’s Jobs first, I would have been totally lost watching Boyle’s Steve Jobs. Even more regrettable is that these contextual holes minimize the importance of other central players in the story of Apple. The film totally undercuts the best performance, Kate Winslet’s honest and heartfelt depiction of Joanna Hoffman, an Apple executive who has the unique ability to influence Jobs and handle his mercurial temperament. Winslet absolutely steals the show when she confronts Jobs about his abhorrent treatment of his daughter, Lisa, and her mother, Chrisann Brennan, and demands that he change: “You’re going to fix it—now!” Unfortunately, this masterful performance is overshadowed by the fact that the audience knows so little about who Hoffman actually is in real life.

Which leads me to the disappointing duo of Steves: Fassbender’s Steve Jobs and Seth Rogan’s Steve Wozniak. Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is curiously one-dimensional. Although Jobs was, in reality, an intense and at times downright horrible person (witness his rampant bullying and demeaning comments to his co-workers and family), Fassbender’s performance is unrelentingly intense and reveals no other side of Jobs’ persona, including his brilliance in the production of products. Instead, Jobs’ trademark creativity is eclipsed by his ruthless business instincts and profound drive for revenge. Rogen’s Wozniak also detracts from the story and distracts the audience. Rogan was poorly cast, and while he makes a valiant effort to convey Wozniak’s kindheartedness and genuine passion, I unfortunately could not stop thinking, “What is the cop from Superbad doing here?” Seth Rogan has yet to have a truly memorable breakout dramatic role and unfortunately, this certainly is not it.

In spite of the film’s many failings, its psychoanalytical approach to the story of Jobs offers a fresh take on the biographical genre. Although this renders the story of Apple as secondary, it creates a novel dynamic whereby we viewers become the innovators, and Jobs becomes the malfunctioning machine. It is the audience’s job to analyze Jobs’ internal code and try to de-bug it, just as Jobs does for his products. As we watch Jobs work behind-the-scenes on his product launches, we see and experience the inner-workings of a man who functions best as a high-powered machine. In observing Jobs think, we are, in a sense, getting a glimpse inside a computer. Yet it is only a glimpse. Just like the lurid iMacs, Steve Jobs ultimately obscures the full view of Jobs’ internal hardware.

I have always felt solidly connected to Steve Jobs, thanks to my store of Apple products and apps. At the least, I was expecting Steve Jobs to strengthen that connection. But it failed to do so simply by neglecting to demystify or explain his genius. In short, this film is like a golden apple, but as the Apple logo suggests, after one bite, it isn’t good enough to finish.

Grade: C+

Ironically, iTunes offers many better options for a third the price of a movie ticket.