While Jobs will expose many newcomers to Steve Jobs’ life story, it is ultimately a wasted homage to a man who deserves better.
When it comes to making films about real people, there seem to be only two schools of thought regarding the storytelling approach. The first involves the screenwriter attempting to tell a subject’s entire life story in two hours (see J. Edgar, Ray, Walk the Line). The second approach lifts one period of the main character’s life, which distills that person’s essence into a much more taught and effective story (see Lincoln, The Fighter, My Week with Marilyn). Jobs falls into the former category and, like many of its predecessors, puts an impossible onus on itself because of its overenthusiastic script.
The life of Steve Jobs, the brilliant founder of Apple Computer and one of the most visionary individuals of the last 50 years, was beset with a series of successes and failures. Any one of the many periods of Jobs’ life that precipitated a massive cultural shift would have made for a truly great story. In Jobs, though, screenwriter Matt Whitely instead tries to balance all of Jobs’ professional accomplishments and setbacks without giving weight to any of them.
The film traces the life of Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) from his time hanging out at Reed College (from which he dropped out) in the early 1970s all the way through 2001 and the introduction of the iPod. Jobs is both hero and villain in the film, reflecting the two very real sides of the actual man. He is a genius developer, launching the first home computer with his business partner Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) from his parents’ garage, as well as a shameless glory hound who prefers the spotlight to be on himself rather than some of his closest and most loyal friends.
The film progresses quickly from Apple Computer getting its first investor, Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), to the unveiling of the Apple II to Jobs’ downfall within the company he built to his eventual reinstatement as the company’s savior. We get glimpses at his personal life, including his horrible treatment of his girlfriend, Chris-Ann (Ahna O’Reilly), who is also the mother of his child. Sadly, the film is dead set on covering as much ground as possible and any moments of substantive drama are yanked away to move on to another decade.
Director Joshua Michael Stern, working from Whitely’s very schizophrenic script, gives the movie a very made-for-TV feel, relying on perfunctory period music and a horribly generic score as an attempt at emotion. Aside from one psychedelic montage early on, the film has no semblance of style or tone. Stern focuses all of his energy on cramming all the action into an hour and 45 minutes and dismisses any sense of artistry. This very bland, uninspired filmmaking is antithetical to the spirit Jobs tried to instill in all of his employees.
Kutcher has never been taken seriously as an actor because, primarily, he has never taken himself very seriously. In Jobs, however, Kutcher has dedicated himself, body and soul, to honoring Jobs’ memory. He has clearly spent months preparing and incorporates everything from Jobs’ goofy gait to his unique gesticulating. As an audience member, I respect and appreciate the seriousness with which Kutcher approached his role. Sadly, though, Kutcher is just not a talented enough actor to convincingly portray the role, despite his uncanny physical resemblance to the late Steve Jobs.
Jobs neither glorifies nor vilifies a man who truly wore many faces. His almost obsessive micromanagement and lust for success drove many people away, but that was also what enabled him to change the world. While Jobs will expose many newcomers to Steve Jobs’ life story, it is ultimately a wasted homage to a man who deserves better. | Matthew Newlin