If Michael Fassbender wins an Oscar for playing Steve Jobs in the film of the same name, he has Ashton Kutcher to thank for it. That’s a joke, of course, but it’s one that Fassbender already made himself at the NYFF Steve Jobs press conference on Saturday. He’s referencing the Kutcher-led Jobs, which was released two years ago. Unlike Kutcher, Fassbender’s interpretation of Jobs is a must-see. The cast knows it too.
Laser-focused, ambitious, and unapologetically ruthless, Fassbender completely disappears into the role and embraces the complex mythology of the Jobs we’ve come to know. He’s not eccentric or quirky, he’s just precise. He wants a white, Oxford shirt for the Macintosh’s product launch — which is minutes away — and does not care how he gets it. He needs it. This is a role that requires absolute vanity and distilled ego, but is performed without any on Fassbender’s part. It’s remarkable to watch.
The film itself, however, is a bit of a mess. Steve Jobs is written by Aaron Sorkin, and the whole movie is a walk-and-talk acid trip of monologue and rants. It’s top tier Sorkin, sure, but at the expense of any linear story. In other words, this is hardly Moneyball or even The Social Network; it’s a more unfiltered Sorkin, or what you would expect to see in one of his writer’s notebooks. It’s likely unpalatable to his critics, but his disciples will love it and throw in the requisite (and necessary) eyerolls.
Steve Jobs is structured into three acts, all taking place before three pivotal product launches in Jobs’ life: the 1984 Macintosh launch with Apple, the 1988 NeXT computer launch (sans-operating system) and the 1998 iMac introduction, which marked Jobs’ winning return to his mothership. You never see Jobs on-stage, all you get is the theatrics leading up to his big speeches: last-minute visitors from the past, confrontations with his former flame Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) or disputed daughter Lisa, and technical glitches. Jobs makes light of this too, by saying aloud that he cannot have a product launch without it seeming like it’s the “last call at the bar” and “everybody he knows wants to tell him how they really feel.”
The Sorkin self-awareness is obviously in play. Throughout the compounded failures, revenge and eventual triumph, only one woman stands by Jobs, his second-in-command Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). She understands Jobs, but is exasperated at the same time. She wants him to succeed and be a good “work wife” (her words!) but just wishes he would take the time to be a better person, or better father. The audience does not understand why she sticks around, but she does so anyway. It’s the same thing with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and former Apple CEO John Sculley (Sorkin favourite Jeff Daniels). Jobs burns them again, and again, and he and Woz even have a Romy and Michele-inspired “I’m treated like the Ringo but I should be the John” debate. Yet, for some reason, in spite of all the slights, they still support Jobs’ vision. These people choose to remain a part of his life, and when they have not seen Jobs in years, they still show up to rally behind him during these critical professional moments.
Rogen’s performance is the best surprise of the movie, as is director Danny Boyle’s maniacal hand. This is the Boyle you remember from Trainspotting and Sunshine, not 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire. Jobs is not an engineer, but Boyle shows him as a genius who can inspire mass hysteria and hype through the sale of a commercial good.
When Boyle introduced the film at the NYFF screening, he continued to stress that this was the World Premiere of the film. He said the version that ran at Telluride in September, and earned raves for Fassbender, was not the “finished” film. With the exception of Katherine Waterston, the principal cast appeared on-stage and rallied behind their director. Though Fassbender and Winslet were noticeably dressed down before hitting the red carpet, they seemed thrilled to share the movie with the audience. Fassbender skipped the London junket over a week ago due to filming commitments on another movie, but this was an event he could not skip, and you could see the joy on his face. It’s a performance that he did not think he could deliver – he insisted Christian Bale (who dropped out after Leo passed) take the lead. But he knows that if people can stomach through the Sorkin, they’ll see the best performance of his career. Yes, better than Shame.
If you don’t see Steve Jobs, you’ll miss this scene with Rogen and Fassbender:
But don’t not buy a ticket unless you are ready for two hours of this:
Steve Jobs opens on Friday.