Following the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Hollywood was quick to respond with a number of projects aiming to do the tech industry icon justice – including a treatment from acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Still, the first project to actually make it out the gate and into theaters is Jobs, directed by Joshua Michael Stern and starring Ashton Kutcher as the man who taught millions of consumers to “Think Different.”
Starting when the titular college dropout partnered with friend, and computer engineer, Steve Wozniak to develop and market the Apple I (the first computer sold under the newly formed Apple Computer, Inc. brand), Stern and Kutcher’s biopic documenting the ups and downs of Jobs’ complicated relationship with Apple over the course of three decades – from small tech startup to one of the most recognizable computer companies on the planet.
As with a lot of biopics, it’s not always going to be easy for viewers to find the line between fact and fiction in Jobs – since Stern attempts to anchor the ins and outs of genius, corporate politics, and real-life “characters” with a meaningful and insightful look at the Apple figurehead. While the “true” story source material already includes a fair share of dramatic (and some inspiring) events, Jobs succumbs to a pretty standard biography framework.
By injecting a bit more conflict, and attempting to draw heavy-handed thematic parallels, the final film is a clumsy, albeit interesting, experience that could satisfy viewers who want to learn more about Jobs and Apple, Inc. That said, tech industry know-it-alls or anyone hoping for an especially insightful character story aren’t likely to find Jobs to be as profound or informative as the director and star might have intended.
The film succeeds in recounting key events that punctuated the troubled relationship between Jobs along with the company he founded (without paying much attention to the non-Apple years of 1985-1996) and the play-by-play rundown should help add context for moviegoers who are simply interested in delving into the man (and several lesser-known contributors) that gave birth to iMacs, iPods, iPhones, and other iThings.
Still, the film is a very straightforward biopic that becomes over-extended in its attempts to include all of the necessary office drama and explore the troubled genius at the center of it all. For that reason, the final film is everything that a viewer might expect (a good performance, interesting side characters, and affecting story) – without any surprises or flair to elevate Jobs above a straightforward but unremarkable recreation of events.
When casting for Steve Jobs was first announced, the Internet was quick to blast Stern’s choice of Kutcher, especially as side-by-side comparison images from the film’s production began to surface. However, the former That 70′s Show actor is (at the very least) serviceable in the role – and it’s clear that he wanted to do Jobs justice. To his credit, Kutcher isn’t the misfire that many had predicted and is at his best when portraying (instead of mimicking) Jobs – allowing practiced nuances to enhance the film’s dialogue and “based on true events” drama. Often, the performance borders on the subtlety and distinction that would help make Jobs a standout entry in Kutcher’s filmography, but several key scenes (such as the announcement of the iPod and the 1984 introduction of the Macintosh) fall into clumsy reenactment instead of engaging adaptation.
In fact, the characterization (not the performance) is the film’s biggest shortcoming – as Stern seeks to make sense of Jobs’ creative genius and cold-hearted business savvy. In addition to tired technobabble, the director throws in a lot of subtle (and/or vague) lines and thematic ideas intended to explain why Jobs alienated many of his friends, co-workers, and even family, while at the same time speaking so passionately about the way in which technology can bring people together. On the surface, the juxtaposition is interesting, and if Jobs didn’t play it safe within a familiar biopic box, Stern might have been able to say something truly unique. Instead, most moments of planned revelation and insight are bogged down in tortured genius cliches – without connecting all the dots in a way that’s both believable and honest.
Despite a number of lines suggesting that Jobs’ passion and drive would be his undoing, it’s as if Stern built his film backwards – starting with the idea that Jobs always had the necessary tools for success – and the primary problem he faced was uninspired business people standing in his way (namely J. K. Simmons as Apple board member Arthur Rock). The truth, of course, is significantly more complicated, and in order to maintain the “Think Different” thematic through-line, the Jobs character is forced into a mostly one-note pipeline en route to vindication – without ever being allowed to recognize any of his own shortcomings. In fact, the movie jumps straight from Jobs’ 1985 resignation to his acclaimed return in 1996 - entirely sidestepping the ten years when the actual man was forced to reflect on his personal imperfections.
Jobs is a passionate effort and it’s clear that both Kutcher as well as Stern were aiming for greatness. Overall, it’s an interesting story and certain moviegoers will, without question, enjoy learning more about Apple and its founder. However, the final film lacks the polish and “greatness” that Steve Jobs routinely aimed to deliver in his own products. Instead of following Apple’s advice to “Think Different,” Jobs falls short of being anything more than an ordinary movie experience that chronicles the life of an extraordinary man.
But there’s one more thing, for any viewers that have actually seen a “Stevenote,” the lack of a mid-credits sequence is a complete missed opportunity.
If you’re still on the fence about Jobs, check out the trailer below:
Jobs runs 122 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for some drug content and brief strong language. Now playing in theaters.
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