Steve Jobs is the worst kind of bad movie.
Starring Kate Winslet and Michael Fassbender, Danny Boyle’s three-act play is competent enough to have fooled most of the critics, who generally gave it positive reviews, but it didn’t fool many of the American people, who stayed away in droves. As Variety Magazine points out, Steve Jobs, which cost 30 million dollars to make – a pretty modest budget for a mainstream Hollywood film – will be lucky to get back its initial investment. It’s not only a crushing bore. It’s a crushing bore that makes it even more boring to figure out why it’s so boring.
I guess the most frustrating thing about Steve Jobs is that it hints at an interesting story it refuses to tell. In the mid-1980s, when I was a student at Rutgers, I used an original Mac to write most of my term papers. The University owned hundreds of them, and they were all over the library and the main study lounges, but I had no idea just how expensive they were. In the 1980s, the United States was a country where any 21-year-old could graduate from college without much debt, but couldn’t afford his own computer. In the 2010s, any 21-year-old can buy a MacBook, but a debt-free college education is a far-off utopian dream that Hillary Clinton tells us all will never, ever happen.
The story of Apple and Steve Jobs is the story of neoliberalism. Sadly, it’s not the story Danny Boyle, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, chose to tell. To be more accurate, the story of Apple is entombed inside a moralistic soap opera, buried underneath piles and piles of ponderous West Wing style patter. Steve Jobs makes is clear not only how overrated Aaron Sorkin is as a screenwriter, but how much of a pompous bore he probably is in real life.
It’s not that Aaron Sorkin hasn’t been associated with good movies. The Social Network was fun to watch, certainly more deserving of the Best Picture award than The King’s Speech, but the Social Network was about people in their early 20s, and Sorkin, who was in his late-40s at the time, had to at least make an effort to let the characters live on their own. In Steve Jobs, he goes full West Wing, giving us set piece after set piece full of self-important soul searching dialogue that doesn’t even do a very good job of explaining the plot. To give one example, the middle section of Steve Jobs focuses on the marketing campaign for the NeXT workstation. It tells us all about how the reason Job’s founded the NeXT corporation in the first place was the operating system. Apple, which fired Jobs in 1985, would eventually need a more sophisticated operating system than the one inside the Apple II, so they would be compelled to hire him back. Then Sorkin forgets to tell us, not only that Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web on a NeXT work station, but even the name of the operating system that’s supposed to be the hinge for the second act of the film. It’s NeXTSTEP. I Googled it.
Aaron Sorkin isn’t interested in the history of personal computing, and it shows. What does interest him is deconstructing the legend of Steve Jobs the man, demonstrating that he was basically just an asshole who abused his employees and wouldn’t pay child-support. Like the history of Apple, it’s another potentially interesting story, but Sorkin fucks this one up too. Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are both pretty good actors, but they’re also badly miscast as President Josiah Bartlet and his Press Secretary C. J. Cregg. I’m not sure why Boyle simply didn’t cast Martin Sheen and Allison Janney.
Oh wait no, I’m sorry, Fassbender and Winslet aren’t playing Josiah Bartlet and C. J. Cregg. They’re playing Steve Jobs and his faithful assistant Joanna Hoffman. They still suck. While I’m not usually one to complain about the ethnicity of any particular actor who plays any particular role, Fassbender is entirely too WASPY to play the half-Syrian-American Jobs. Steve Jobs had a big nose. Fassbender is a chiseled Anglo Saxon. Noah Wyle, who’s half Jewish, nailed the character, and look, of Jobs, in the 1999 TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley. Fassbender just reminds me of yet another Ivy League, Wall Street investment banker. Kate Winslet is even worse. Judging by what I can find on my Google image search, the real Joanna Hoffman was sort of cute. Winslet not only gets the Polish accent all wrong. She plays Hoffman as uglier than she really was.
That Kate Winslet, who’s an attractive A-list Hollywood actress, goes out of her way portray a computer executive as plain can give us some clues as to just why this movie was so dreadful. Steve Jobs may have been just another asshole corporate CEO, but he was also a master showman. He not only managed to convince the American public to buy overpriced computer hardware, he did it in his own, eccentric way. Aaron Sorkin, a boring Hollywood liberal who’s probably already working on a hagiographic film about Hillary Clinton, will never be half the showman Jobs was, and he knows it. So he has to cut him down to size. The choice of the chisled WASPY Fassbender as the Syrian American Jobs, and the very severe Winslet as the sort of cute Joanna Hoffman, sends a clear message. The real problem is not that Jobs was an asshole who didn’t pay his child-support. It’s that he made the rest of corporate America look boring. As portrayed by Fassbender, Jobs is a responsible Wall Street banker locked inside a childish Silicon Valley hippie. Winslet is basically his mom trying to help him get out. Grow up Steve, pay your child support, stop show boating, and act like a man.
Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs, in other words, is IBM’s long delayed counter attack against Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad. It’s the revenge of the boring capitalist against the entertaining capitalist. That this flaming turd failed at the box office almost restores my faith in the United States of America.