Release: Thursday, August 15, 2013
What the movie Jobs does for those who would like to get to know the guy behind Apple a bit better is like watching what a three-year-old would probably do with an iPod or iPad: out of curiosity, you hand it to them and see what they might figure out about the object. But instead, you watch them toss and juggle it around like a bouncy ball — that glossy, expensive thing of great value and they might even drop it and give it its first scratch or three. Well, damn it. You knew that was probably a bad idea , and that you shouldn’t have done that. The child didn’t recognize the true value of the thing they had, or at what cost that scratch or broken screen came.
This is how I feel about director Joshua Michael Stern’s take on the life of Steven Paul Jobs, a cultural icon and visionary who changed the landscape of the consumer experience when it came to computers. Our fearless director was handed an immensely important assignment in piecing together a biopic which would hopefully cover some new territory and show the man in lights we’ve never seen before. Through this film we would potentially be getting to know the man who shaped the company, and the life events that took place which would shape the man. Alas, what we are provided is a documentary-style glimpse at Jobs’ more pivotal experiences with the company he built; we get little to no new information about him. Stern presents Kutcher as Steve in the flesh — a man who’s not good at working with others (got that already); who’s willing to throw anyone under the bus if it would get him ahead by one step (could safely assume about as much for any individual breeding him or herself for the CEO-level); and who has simply absurdly high standards of excellence (also a given going into this thing). Stern, then, is that child tossing around a brand new iPod. “Whoa, whoa. . . buddy, better hand that back over to me before you do something stupid with it, thanks!”
Sigh. Unfortunately hindsight is twenty-twenty. That we were going to be treated to a silver screen examination of the life and impact of this one highly influential genius was exciting news, even if the director’s name attached to the project wasn’t well-known. For some reason, for material like this, a director with a reputation makes the experience seem more like it’s “safe,” “in the right hands,” or going to be “a guaranteed success.” Considering the final product here with Jobs, such a sentiment no longer seems quite as superstitious. It might be the cold, hard truth.
What this film boils down to is a by-the-numbers chronological timeline of the major events in the life of Steve Jobs, as he transforms his business from garage space to corporate high-rise. Jobs enlists the help of several “friends,” the closest of which, Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) was the one who actually showed Jobs his latest idea, which was hooking up a motherboard to a monitor — thus, the first theoretical computer for home use. Immediately Jobs was hooked on this concept and wanted nothing to stop him from accomplishing the goal of transforming the computer from a technological start-up to an everyday, civilian appliance. The process would involve the losing and gaining of friends and coworkers as well as the rise into corporate power and the eventual fall from grace that would come as a result of an ego that was perpetually left unchecked.
That besides, there were other notable pitfalls examined along the way. Jobs knew what it was that he wanted to do, but wasn’t always able to make anyone else understand. He was so ahead of his time that his most basic ideas would often be shrugged off as ridiculous or impractical, labeled as both a danger to the company financially, and a danger to himself reputation-wise. As though he would listen to this argument at all.
The main problem with Stern’s vision here is that it. . . lacks vision. Rare are the moments in this movie that are actually inspiring, or feel as though they aren’t simply being acted out. One thing must be noted, though. A big surprise came from Kutcher’s performance: he looked and felt the part, and as a matter of fact, I considered him to be one of the stronger points of the film. I’m no Ashton Kutcher fan (though he does make those Nikon cameras look pretty sweet), and I expected to be instantly repelled by his interpretation of his character. But I was fooled. Kutcher skillfully adopts several Jobsian mannerisms — the gangly, awkward way he carries himself; his gesticulations with his hands and eyes; the way he spits when he is beyond reasonably upset over something seemingly trivial. As surprised as I am to say it, Kutcher checks out.
However, the surrounding material that’s meant to build his life’s castles here is seriously lacking in interest. Structurally the story is insanely boring. Chronology does seem to make the most sense in tracing the man’s journey from college hippie to company founder to eventual CEO, but when used here, it’s simply too bland and hardly inspiring. The scenes depicting the genesis of the company outside of Steve’s adoptive parents’ home are actually quite amusing as we see potential investors showing up to the house in expensive cars, and there’s Steve and company hanging out in the yard looking bored with themselves.
Outside of a few humorous moments like these the film distinctly lacks any sort of personality. The major turning points that occur throughout are addressed briefly and then moved away from — this is Stern sacrificing substance for a few more seconds of a close-up of Kutcher’s eyes behind the iconic Lennon-style glasses he wore. There are few lingering moments during the good times, and fewer instances where we feel Jobs might be really screwed by continuing to stay his own course. Even when he’s unceremoniously ousted from the company in 1985 for butting heads with the infamous investor Arthur Rock, who saw him as a one-man show only interested in himself and not in advancing the company itself. There’s a scene of him broken down and crying, and while this was another example of strong acting from Kutcher, it’s somehow not nearly enough considering the weight of the circumstances. The director is far more interested in covering all the bases rather than the details. A cursory glance over Jobs’ Wikipedia page would produce the exact same feeling you walk out of the theater with.
There are however a few strong supporting roles that are worthy of mention. Josh Gad as Jobs’ right-hand man, Steve Wozniak, is fantastic. Though he didn’t need to do much more than look supremely dorky for most of the movie, Gad exemplifies the composure of someone who stays rather close to the man who has no problem with pushing everyone else away for the sake of working harder. Wozniak remains faithful to Jobs the entire time, and Gad really puts forth the effort to demonstrate the duo’s often tumultuous relationship. J.K. Simmons does a great job trying to out-intimidate Jobs in the conference rooms time and again, playing the extremely wealthy investor Arthur Rock. Simmons brings none of that oft-appreciated sarcasm and wit to this role and, as a result, he’s a worthy adversary for Kutcher’s querulous character.
Perhaps there is no more disappointing fact than the timeline over which this was made. Two years have elapsed since the man passed, and this movie still ended up smelling like a made-for-television special. Two years isn’t a great deal of time in the movie industry, that’s all sure, but I figured it just had to be sufficient time to make a richly compelling movie about a man who created so much from so little. Even if that’s not the most objective way to look at it, here’s another way: if you’re going to be the first to put out something regarding one of the bigger names in our recent history, you’d probably be wanting to create a splash. Making the first impression is like leaving a lasting impression, and unfortunately that is just not what we get at all.
Despite Kutcher’s surprisingly accurate portrayal, in the end its the bigger picture that really matters. Sorry to say, but I think Steve is just a figure that’s going to need to wait to be properly introduced on the big screen. Fortunately, I believe there is another project in the works and hopefully that one might live up to expectations (expectations that I don’t think are all too unreasonable). For now, it might be safe to assume that we just got Punk’D really, really good. This wasn’t the real movie, and whatever it is that is coming down the pipe, will serve as a better tribute.
Recommendation: Jobs is thoughtful in keeping alive the memory of the man as it were and Kutcher’s work is certainly commendable, but even despite his best efforts there’s nothing here that we haven’t known for years already. Any Mac fan is probably going to be disappointed by this.
Running Time: 127 mins.
Quoted: “Okay, show me this revolutionary piece of sh*t.”
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