Today is the release of the movie Jobs, a biographical film based on the story of college dropout turned ground-breaking entrepreneur and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Ashton Kutcher takes on the ginormous role and so far, reviews have been mixed. Much has been written about ‘fantasy’ scenes that were written in but never actually happened in reality. I understand critics’ and audiences’ concerns with receiving the full and correct picture but as an actor, I also understand the importance of story vs. plot. Let me explain…
Most of us know the basics of Steve Jobs’ fascinating life and his rise to greatness: guy co-founds company, guy loses company, guy gets company back. But that, movie lovers, is merely the plot; the story is a whole different ballgame. As actors, we are taught that the plot is not our concern, but rather telling the story is. And the story concerns the journey of the human heart, how a character is affected by these out-of-the-ordinary circumstances on a human level. When it comes to telling any kind of story, movie makers have to be concerned with creating characters that the audience will care about and who will send them on an emotional journey that we want to see unfold. And when dealing with real-life people, this might require taking some creative liberties because most people really aren’t that interesting.
So when you settle in to watch a biopic, always keep in mind that it is ‘based’ on real events. There may be some things that are added or even taken away in order to tell a better story. So let go of what you think should be happening and just go for the ride. If the movie is well made and the story well told, small changes shouldn’t faze you. And on that note, let’s look at some of the better biographical movies to have been made in recent years.
The King’s Speech, 2010
Released in 2010 this Academy Award-winning film tells the story of King George VI and his struggle to overcome his stutter with the help of friend and speech therapist Lionel Logue. Colin Firth received rave reviews for his portrayal of the King and saw him win his first Oscar for Best Actor. The film also picked up Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay, and received 12 nominations in total.
Walk the Line, 2005
Joaquin Phoenix played the lead in this biopic based on the tumultuous life of singer-songwriter Johnny Cash’s early days and his romance with June Carter, played by Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon’s performance was well received and she won a multitude of awards including the Oscar for Best Actress.
Ed Wood, 1994
Although not a box office success, this biopic about the cult film-maker was a huge critical success. Director Tim Burton defended possible inaccuracies saying the film is not “a completely hardcore realistic biopic” and has an “overly optimistic quality to it.”
Catch Me If You Can, 2002
Nothing Hollywood about the subject of this film… until of course they made a movie about him. Frank Abagnale Jr. became a successful conman performing cons worth millions of dollars before the age of 19. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the lead in an all-star cast including Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen.
The Blind Side, 2009
Sandra Bullock made a good call taking the lead role of the ballsy football-mom with a heart. The film follows the story of Michael Oher from his impoverished upbringing to his successful career in the NFL, helped along the way by his unlikely adoptive parents. Not only did Bullock win the Oscar for Best Actress, but this turned out to be the highest grossing movie of her career.