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'Steve Jobs' review: Unconventional, entertaining, but incomplete

Caitlin McGarry | Oct. 12, 2015
The new film is a riveting look at the icon, but its narrow scope omits much of his personal and professional growth.

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Credit: Universal Studios

If you know enough about Steve Jobs, watching the new biopic Steve Jobs without bias is almost impossible. You can’t help think about Apple event keynotes, anecdotes from books about the late Apple CEO, the devices you use or have used that were guided by his vision.

But try to leave all of that aside and appreciate Steve Jobs for what it is: entertainment. That’s where the movie succeeds, even as facts are fudged.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (of The Social Network fame) constructed Steve Jobs around three major product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the 1988 introduction of NeXT’s computer, and Jobs’s triumphant return to Apple with the iMac in 1998. Those three acts take place over 15 years of personal and professional strife in Jobs’s life, and that limited timeline by nature omits the growth he experienced both as a leader and as a person. This is a movie about Steve Jobs that doesn’t include the launch of the iPhone, what some might consider his greatest achievement, or even a mention of his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, and their three children together.

Instead, the movie is centered around Jobs’s redemption, both as a CEO and as a parent. Long-time Apple watchers are familiar with the story: In 1978, Jobs had a daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, with high school girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, but denied that he was the father throughout Lisa’s childhood, despite naming a computer after her. It was a decision he came to regret, and he eventually repaired his relationship with Brennan-Jobs. Aaron Sorkin made Lisa, in his words, the “heroine” of his version of Jobs’s life: She is his moral compass, even when he denies to himself and the world that she is his child.

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The heart of the film is Lisa Brennan-Jobs, played as a 5-year-old by Makenzie Moss. Credit: Universal Studios

The positioning of Lisa Brennan-Jobs as the heart of the film and the use of three product launches to narrate Jobs’s growth succeed as storytelling devices. The film takes place largely off-stage, behind the scenes of those major events, and is told in a series of fraught conversations between Jobs and those close to him: his daughter, his ex-girlfriend, Steve Wozniak, former Apple CEO John Sculley, Macintosh developer Andy Hertzfeld, and the film’s voice of reason, Apple marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet). Hoffman’s relationship with Jobs was probably nowhere near as intimate as depicted in the film (she is never described as his “work wife” anywhere but this script, for instance), but no matter: Their banter humanizes Jobs, and you want to see more of her.

 

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