STEVE JOBS...DEIFIED, OR CRUCIFIED?
Rarely do I have as much personally invested in a film: I’m not just a huge fan of Apple but also know John Sculley, the former Apple CEO who “fired” Jobs in the 1980’s, when Jobs was acting out. Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle are two of my favorite screenwriters and film directors, respectively. I was ready for a rocking two hours.And rare is it that anything as ironic as this could ever happen while attending a private screening in Hollywood:
Approaching the parking garage for a private screening at Universal, where a handful of people were in attendance, I had to furnish a printed parking pass that had been E-mailed. Not having one, we whipped out our iPhone instead, to furnish the E-mail invite. In a moment of supreme irony, Jobs legacy got us into a movie about Jobs.
Yes, indeed Jobs created the future. But from the movie I just watched, I’m not sure if he is more of a Columbus figure- one of the biggest a-holes who ever lived, or a visionary to be revered and cheered. Perhaps both men were both. But as it was said by one of Job’s friends, one can be both visionary and...human. Starting out with a clip of another of my all time favorite visionary geniuses (who was actually nice)- Arthur C. Clarke, who co-wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, I was in cinema Heaven, already drooling over the glowing review I would pen. But like that other megga-film/event/ship, starring Kate Winslett, this ship was destined to sail into icy, Titanic waters. Whether the spectacle of a bloated script attracts or repels audiences, remains to be seen. Oscar noms will always help but if the reaction even remotely mirrors both mine and my friends, box office will be icy. Horribly absent at the screening was the usual polite applause-and this at the studio that is distributing the film. After word of mouth gets out, I cant imagine masses of people showing up to pay homage to what this film portrays as...an ass.
In Hollywood, the only sin is to bore. Without question, this is one of the least absorbing films I’ve ever witnessed. Want to sit in on a corporate marketing argument? See the movie! Want to be forced to be present at paternity fights, parental rights and dirty laundry being aired? Watch this film! Sorkin and Jobs focus on all the wrong things. In high conceptualizing a tech-epic into a word-heavy three act stage play, they do a disservice to history.
In fact, they even get the history wrong, according to no less the man himself, John Sculley, (Jeff Daniels) -who was being wooed by Jobs in the early 80’s to leave his vaunted position as head of marketing at Pepsi. According to Sculley’s autobiopic, it took several dinner meetings to convince John to make the big move from the east to the west coast. What finally got him was not the Pepsi challenge he had created but Job’s challenge: “look, do you want to sell sugar water or do you want to create the future?” This might have been the best line in the film but Sorkin either didn’t do his research or left it out.The incredible back story of building Apple in his garage is reduced to a few quick flashbacks in Job’s life story. Did Jobs in fact steal everything? We don’t know. No one wants a whitewashed revisionist John Wayne story but neither do we need a scathing expose’ of a dead mans worst moments. Jobs admitted he was “poorly made.” But should his flaws be the incessant focus of a massive Hollywood marketing campaign? It stinks of the idea that Jobs cancer was a karmic result of being “bad” and even had this viewer thinking such dark thoughts until he came to his senses.
Who knows? Maybe if we actually saw Job’s blood, sweat and tears, his childhood, audiences might have been more sympathetic to what looked like Job’s cold heart. Adoption issues aside, we’re left with no clue why this man was such a jerk. We’re left wondering whether he even created Apple. He comes across as a heartless egomaniac. Maybe he was. If so, why glorify him with a movie and not just any movie but one with the best director and writer in Hollywood? And if you’ve got to do it, why not find the angle, if not the Angel, in the whirlwind? Surely there had to be something about the man we could like? Clearly, this script failed to avoid the trap of either deifying or crucifying our heros.
Then there was the little issue of the “character arc” that also was MIA in this script. Jobs was just Jobs. Instead of a gradual (thus the word “arc”) transformation, Job’s was a jerk for 99% of the movie, then suddenly at the end, seemed to maybe (we’re not sure) care about his daughter.
Instead of a strong portrait of a complex man; of a complex world radically changed by one mans vision and tenacity, this viewer at least, left the theater scratching his head, with no clue who Steve Jobs, the titular hero, really was. Instead of making this writer the proud owner of an iPhone, this film made him want to ditch it and buy an Android. Instead of showing us how radically different the world is, post-Jobs, it acted as if little to nothing happened since the 80’s and 90’s except some backstage bickering among friends. The word “nobility” appears to have been excised from Sorkin’s pen-at least for this project. I’m not sure what kind of reaction the film will have on others but if it’s even remotely similar to my experience, Apple stock could suffer. If it does, the legal possibilities boggle the imagination. Perhaps we’ll finally see just how much films do-or do not influence culture and taste (and sell products.) Online whackos will say Bill Gates might be behind it all. Of course not and of course, this is all merely wild speculation, the product of one writers fertile imagination-(something the film was lacking in) as it obsessed with dialogue.Did anyone say dialogue? Yes, you know-that stuff that screen writing books and classes will always tell you to keep at a minimum. Well, this two hour orgy of dialogue throws that rule in the trash can-maybe where it belongs-that’s up to you to decide.
Strange too, that Sorkin’s movie about Mark Zuckerberg -who had a similar reputation, painted him as just a dorky/cool genius frat dude who got lucky while no such grace is given to Jobs, who, arguably, made Zuckerberg’s billionaire status update, possible. Instead of a sweeping cinematic epic about how one man did-or did not create the future, Sorkin wrote a Soap Opera worthy of daytime TV. Instead of the brilliant and entertaining Oscar-worthy Social Network he’s capable of, Sorkin had a bad day (or year) here.
On the good side, the acting was phenomenal. Kate Winslett as the closest thing to a wife that Job’s ever seemed to have (his marketing manager) was over the top amazing when her Polish accent wasn’t in and out. The entire cast was excellent. Kudos to the Hair and MU dpt. for perfectly moving the principle actors from their twenties into middle age.
And finally, a shout out to the good folks at Universal who were kind enough to invite an unknown writer to a private screening. I’m sure they’ll survive. I hope and pray, for their sakes, that I’m wrong, that Steve Jobs is their Star ship Enterprise, not their Titanic.