Before I begin, fair warning. I am not an Aaron Sorkin fan. I'm well aware that he's considered in almost Olympian terms by many in the industry and has won a lot of writing awards, but what some consider brilliance I often find tedious, unsurprising and boring.
In his latest work, Steve Jobs, the cringing for me started at the outset with his typical outpouring of clever sentences that in a better dramatist's hand might lead to dazzling repartee. However, the key word is dramatist, the ability to fashion together plots and conversation that compel us to pay attention, through comedy or tragedy or a mix of both. The mere stringing together of shrewd phraseology that, for the most part, is not believable patter among characters, doesn't work no matter how intriguing we believe them to be.
He did it on occasion in The Social Network, where in a major scene he had Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg tear the Winklevoss twins apart at a legal conference with such venomous gusto spewing from his lips that it was really hard to swallow and might have played more credibly if we had, in a prior moment, seen Zuckerberg rehearse the encounter in his bathroom mirror.
This is not to say that one cannot have witty banter and such. Noel Coward showed us how, not to mention Edward Albee and many others. However, when the cleverness is almost non-stop and in circumstances that are rarely credible and sometimes stagnant, the beauty of the language becomes lost as we find ourselves pulled away from any semblance of a dramatic encounter taking place.
Let's start with the film's background. If you haven't seen the film this may be a spoiler, except there's very little to spoil in that most of what happens is already known. The film is about the fall of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, his attempt at a comeback with a product that doesn't succeed and ends with a triumphant crescendo where he wins the day. All good potential for a knockout film except for the way it is presented here.
Most of the film takes place backstage at three convocations designed to launch new Apple products, the Macintosh, NeXT and the iMac. Through it all, we are witness to shouting and arguing among the key players who apparently all possess the capacity for only the highest levels of elocutionary comebacks. Not to mention the further complication that much of their discourse concerns technical jargon not familiar to the movie masses.
So, whether it's Jobs played by Michael Fassbender, who does an awfully good job with what he has, or his key aide and ally Joanna Hoffman played by Kate Winslet (who seems to develop a thick eastern European accent in the middle of the film not indicated early on) or Steve Wozniak, well portrayed by Seth Rogen, the exchanges are so intuitively profound without anyone giving a moment's thought to what they are about to say or where they're saying it that it ceases to be about people in conflict. It's as if they were robots with access to a terrific thesaurus.
People don't talk that way, even brilliant people. And, for the most part, they're not going to shout vitriol back and forth across a conference hall while many are watching them tear each other apart, as Jobs and Wozniak did in a since discredited scene which apparently never happened. But I'm not so concerned with what might or might not have actually taken place. I'm mostly bothered that the writer and the director thought it was cool to shoot it that way. A scene where folks don't turn their heads or walk away in discomfort, which most would do, no doubt because they were told to stand there by director Danny Boyle, who was paying them to do so.
Among the most well known of the savage sages of the modern era, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, they had a way about them where just at the right moment they could slay you with a one-liner, but they didn't come one after another and another after another. I guess what I'm saying is what Sorkin does with these characters is overkill to the extent that it loses impact, and in a big way.
Not to mention the treacly continuing plot about his ex lover Chrisann, played by Katherine Waterston and the argument about the little girl named Lisa who is ever present. i.e. is she or isn't she his daughter? That all this plays out in each of the segments, backstage at the various convention centers hired for the product rollouts instead of other places, such as someone's home, a restaurant, etc. etc. is artificial -- perhaps intentionally so -- who knows, the dialogue surely is. Is there no other place Chrisann can accost him, such as his office? She clearly has the means to get where she wants to go. She's not standing outside in the rain; she is always at a place very near where Jobs is backstage, so someone must be letting her in.
And, at the end, when Jobs returns to Apple and is about to finally be triumphant with the launch of the iMac he is told Lisa is in the exhibition hall, but she refuses to see him. Oh? Then, what was she doing there in the first place? Perhaps it was because Mr. Sorkin wanted her to meet with her father in an attempt to provide us with a semblance of Jobs' humanity, but if she was truly so hostile to him, as Sorkin depicts, it didn't make sense as to why she bothered to come.
I'm sorry, all you Sorkin fans, and I know there are different ways to impart drama, sometimes in an unrealistic fashion, such as Ionesco and others. And if this is what you want, a compendium of incredible bon mots that don't ring true in the slightest and it thrills you to hear actors utter them ad nausea, please pay no attention to what I'm saying. And I'm sure you will.
Michael Russnow's website is www.ramproductionsinternational.com