It is hard to believe that Aaron Sorkin wrote Steve Jobs. After all, he's the writer behind such brilliantly entertaining work as The Social Network, The West Thing and (even) A Few Good Men. It's disappointing enough that Sorkin's storytelling lacks imagination and drama. What's worse, Sorkin has created an irony-free zone where the infamously vicious Jobs comes across as a Christ-like figure, aided by Michael Fassbender's almost beatifically enigmatic performance. It's not that Jobs is paranoid, crazy or even mean, it's that he's misunderstood by everyone -- except his Mary Magdalene-like long-suffering marketing director Joanna Hoffman (portrayed by Kate Winslet with an oddly appearing and disappearing European accent of unknown origin.)
The film centers on the backstage drama of three product launch events. In each of these, Jobs must weather the scorn and enmity of his small circle of friends, lovers and colleagues: Woz (Steve Wozniak) with whom he founded Apple (played with great charm by Seth Rogen), the aforementioned Joanna Hoffman, Apple CEO, father figure and Jobs betrayer John Sculley (played blandly by a pasty Jeff Daniels), nice guy and genius engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) and, last but by no means least, whiny ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston in a particularly thankless role) and their daughter Lisa (played nicely at various ages by three actresses).
Each of these product launches features these characters and each repeats the same issues and personality conflicts. Woz keeps asking for Jobs to acknowledge the Apple II team, and Jobs refuses. Hertzfeld wants Jobs to be a nicer human being, and Jobs falls short. Hoffman is not-so-secretly in love with Jobs, and Jobs indulges her by allowing her to speak her mind. Sculley seems more like Jobs' psychiatrist than boss and mentor, and repeatedly prods Jobs to reveal his feelings on being an orphan.
What plot there is revolves around Chrisann and Lisa. In all three launch scenes, Chrisann is after only one thing, Jobs' financial support, which Jobs winds up providing, albeit with reluctance. At first, Jobs denies that he is Lisa's father, but that proves to be both a temporary and a hollow denial -- Jobs exhibits great love and affection for his little girl. He even names the Apple II computer 'Lisa' which, at first, he denies is named for her but then, in the emotional ending of the film, as the music swells melodramatically, he admits that, yes, he really did name his computer for her after all. And that is meant to show how much he loves her, how good a guy he is, and how he has finally found his redemption.
If this sounds like an odd way to portray the life and career of one of the great visionaries of the 20th Century, it is -- especially after Sorkin's skewering and sometimes harrowing depiction of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. In The Social Network, Sorkin takes us on the roller coaster ride and shows us how Facebook came to be an indispensable part of our lives. In Steve Jobs, however, Sorkin doesn't show us anything, he merely tells us in dialogue. For example, at the launch of the original Mac, someone says something like, "This will be a disaster." And it is. Now, on to the next thing. - Jeff Cohen
Mr. Cohen is a New York City-based producer, director, playwright, teacher and avid tennis player.