"Hype" and "Apple" are inextricably linked. Apple press conferences and product launches are major events, eagerly anticipated weeks and even months in advance.
It's not just the products that have captured the attention of Apple fans, but their creator: The late Steve Jobs.
Even post-mortem, vestiges of Jobs are found today in think pieces on product launches and in interrogations of new company decisions and designs. Apple has trudged on without its leader, of course, and with success. But even now, it's nearly impossible to dissociate the man from the company he left behind.
All of this feeds directly into the machine generating excitement for Steve Jobs, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin's interpretation of a life that still fascinates. While the film's starring role in last year's Sony email leak scandal certainly contributed to and informed interest in the film, the invitation to peek exclusively behind the curtain of a man who lived and died so publicly is of immense appeal regardless.
This is the film's most interesting conceit: It offers what is primarily a behind-the-scenes look at Jobs as he prepares for three of the biggest stage performances of his career. Sorkin's script draws heavily from drama in this regard, not atypical for the Oscar winning writer of films like The Social Network and Moneyball. The three-act structure is ambitious, and the theatricality of the screenplay renders the film reminiscent of last year's Birdman, as well as those previous talk-y Sorkin creations.
Each act is identified by the year the event took place. Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender who, it must be said, does not resemble the Apple exec in the slightest, transforms subtly and then all at once between 1984, 1988 and 2000. It's the metamorphosis of Jobs that is the focus here; Apple fans looking for recreations of the product launches for first Macintosh and the original iMac (or, less likely, the premiere of Jobs' post-Apple disaster the NeXT Computer) will be let down.
The trajectory for the Jobs idol is made overt by the key themes of Sorkin's script: father, son, and unbelievable mind. That last tenet is conveyed through the liberal and heavy use of dialogue, which is well-crafted and intelligent, if not as memorable as The Social Network's.
But the father and son themes are where the film trips itself up. As Kate Winslet's Joanna Hoffman (who is saddled with an unfortunate accent but still succeeds in the role) tearfully tells her boss towards the end, the best thing about a man should be his skills as a father; this, however, was the worst aspect of Jobs. Reconciling with his daughter Lisa, who he refuses to even acknowledge as his child at the beginning, is a major through line carrying a sentimental weight that clashes with the film's quick-paced and more successful banter between geniuses.
The temporal brevity of each scene, which is occasionally averted with quick flashbacks to the pre-Apple days filled with terrible hair, doesn't help to establish this father-daughter relationship as best it should, considering how close to center focus it's positioned. We see Lisa grow from age five all the way to a Harvard sophomore, yet the chaos surrounding her father prevents the pair, or the viewer, from getting to know each other in a way that fosters true connection. It doesn't help that Fassbender's Jobs is always thinking, rarely able to sit with his or his daughter's feelings for more than a few minutes.
He was more than an inventor, he was an idol and a symbol.
Jobs was not only a questionable parent, but a damaged son, put up for adoption as a baby. These humble beginnings are meant to serve as the implicit reason for Jobs' rejection of his own child, but their introduction into the film — John Scully's (Jeff Daniels) abrupt reference backstage before the Macintosh reveal — feels forced and unbalanced.
"Forced and unbalanced" adequately describe the film overall. Danny Boyle's cinematic flourishes — abstract, anticipatory cutaways and dramatic, iconography-heavy montages establishing the time between acts — don't best serve Sorkin's script. At times, Boyle's predilection for cutting and inability to stand still for too long distracts from the whip-smart dialogue. In more comedic scenes, like those with embittered Apple II designer Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, who doesn't convince anyone of his range here) and Macintosh engineer and family friend Andy Hertzfeld (a strong, subtle Michael Stuhlbarg), the direction works better. But more often than not, the Boyle-Sorkin partnership leaves those wanting for David Fincher or Bennett Miller instead.
What's worse, though, are the elements present in Jobs that are classically "biopic." The score becomes more bombastic as times goes on, until it is swooping yet unremarkable. Music is an essential, manipulative tactic for prying emotion out of scenes that might lack it otherwise, and this is most obvious as the film builds towards its tidy ending.
Steve Jobs' final note is its most blatant: He was more than just an inventor; he was an idol and a symbol. He was a success. And as hard as the film tries to share those accomplishments with capable actors and energetic dialogue, its limited set pieces and tendency toward the melodramatic prevent the audience from really getting to know him as much more than the image we cheered for on stage for all of those years.