Published Aug 15, 2013Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs was a man who changed the world. His innovative, forward thinking transformed the way we look at technology, in the process making Apple a driving force in the American economy.
Being a larger-than-life character with a compelling story cut short, it's unsurprising that multiple opportunists would scramble to whip up a biopic cashing on the death of the late Apple Computers founder, rushing through the motions to be the first out of the gates to tell his story. Resultantly, Joshua Michael Stern's Jobs, despite being the first to hit theatres, visibly suffers for its lack of preparation and grace, feeling and looking as rushed as it was.
Rather than chronicle the entire life of Jobs from beginning to end — something that might make a decent miniseries on HBO — Stern opts to focus on Jobs's days as a College dropout, leading up to the release of the iPod in 2001. In terms of focus, it proves mostly effective, since these years define the man and resultantly help outline the bland thematic trajectory of overcoming obstacles and persevering that Jobs lazily assumes.
Roughly a third of the film is spent during Jobs's college years, painting a picture of a generic, middle-class kid who enjoyed hallucinogenic drugs, meditation, philosophy, engineering and — to make the cliché complete — travelling to India. While this pretty much summarizes the experience of thousands of well-adjusted kids trying to "find themselves," as presented here, it's mostly scatterbrained, existing only to go through the factual motions of the man's life without really remarking on it or giving any greater context.
It isn't until Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) gains employment with Atari that the momentum picks up. With the introduction, and Jobs's subsequent manipulation, of childhood friend Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), the story finally finds an ounce of substance; Jobs enlists Woz to help him out with a project at Atari, but lies about how much money they would receive. This provides a glimpse of a man that would stop at nothing to succeed, even abusing those closest to him.
Unfortunately, while this is the most complex aspect of this forgettable biopic, it's also glossed over like everything else, given minimal consideration before the narrative shuffles off to the next checkpoint, which involves Jobs creating the original Apple II computer in the family garage. His partnership with entrepreneur Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) provides them with the financial backing and the platform to launch their company.
The bulk of the film plays out as a standardized, rags-to-riches tale. Jobs started from scratch and shaped the company into what it ultimately became. We follow the trials and tribulations of a man with a vision trying to adapt to the corporate world, having to answer to shareholders that don't have the same ideas for the future. Since the film is titled Jobs, those who oppose his concepts and perceptions are written as antagonistic ciphers, having no real motivations beyond unremarkably observed vilification.
Beyond these flaws in characterization and dialogue, one of the biggest issues is that there's little commentary or moral lexicon for the decisions Jobs makes or the cutthroat business strategies he utilizes. One such example comes in an early scene, where Jobs finds out his girlfriend is pregnant; he denies responsibility for the child and refuses to sign visitation papers. Yet, towards the end of the film, we find Jobs active in daughter Lisa's life, with zero redress for having denied her at the start. There's no assessment of the nature of greed or selfishness, nor any context for the shift to a dialogue that contrarily suggests that determination changes, or at least masks, character.
Kutcher's portrayal of Steve Jobs is both the best and the worst thing about the movie. Kutcher went to great lengths to learn the various nuances of the icon, ranging from his giraffe-like gait to his mannerisms. Yet, for all of the eerie similarities he manages to nail, he never quite disappears into the character. It's an entirely observed, but unrealized performance, like pantomime or sketch comedy impersonation.
By the end of the film's bloated 125-minute runtime, we're left with a flippant on-screen version of what we could have just as easily learned from reading the authorized Steve Jobs biography. Let's hope that Aaron Sorkin does a better job, if and when his offering makes it to theatres, if only to make it up to the ravenous Apple fan boys that will no doubt be seriously disappointed by Stern's half-hearted attempt. (Remstar)