Watching Jobs, director Joshua Michael Sterns’ new biopic of Apple founder Steve Jobs, I teared up a couple of times. And it seems the brilliant and mercurial entrepreneur (played by Ashton Kutcher) was occasionally given to turning on the waterworks himself. We see him crying in several scenes: after he’s horrible to his pregnant girlfriend; when his friend, Apple co-founder and original tech whiz-kid Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), quits Apple; and again in 1985, after he’s pushed out of his own company. In each case, he’d been a total creep to the people in his personal and professional life. Which is sad. But none of those scenes pushed me to tears.
No, my emotions got better of me when faced with my strangely nostaglic attachment to the Apple products of my past. Like the first Mac, unveiled in 1984, which looks just like the one I actually lugged, on my shoulder, across the country. Naturally, a tear came to my eye—of course, my posture has never been the same.
I got misty-eyed again when Jobs returns to Apple in 1997. He’s shown meeting with industrial designer Jonathan Ive (Giles Matthey), who has produced an early sketch of that cute candy-colored iMac that will soon lead to my first laptop, the similarly-hued Book It was like seeing a picture of myself in a baby doll dress and leggings.
The real Jobs probably would have approved of my
teary response to his product rather than the person portrayed in this over-stuffed biopic, which engages in its early scenes—the young entrepreneurs at work in a Silicon Valley garage are pretty irresistible, particularly Gads and Ron Eldard as engineer Rod Holt—but becomes interminable in its second half.
Sterns and first-time screenwriter Matt Whiteley abbreviate Jobs’ life story, skipping his time at Pixar, his battle with cancer and any post-iPod Apple history.
The movie opens with a prologue set in 2001, with Jobs introducing the iPod— Kutcher looking appropriately slender and aged—before flashing back to 1974, with “Peace Train” on the soundtrack and a barefoot Jobs dropping acid at Reed College. The story wraps up around 1997, with Jobs’ triumphant return to the Cupertino campus of the empire he built. Every new chapter seems to start with a peppy musical interlude (“Keep on rollin’!”) a bland establishing shot of Silicon Valley and Kutcher walking through the office with that peculiar stooped gait of Jobs.
The real problem with Jobs is how much time we spend in boardrooms with Jobs and suits like venture capitalist Arthur Rock (J. K. Simmons), who care only about money and want to thwart his brilliant dreams. Not that the real man’s career wasn’t marked by conflict, but does Jobs have to be such a drag? As reliable a character-actor as they come, Simmons can’t make this stick in the mud any fun to watch; you may long for Jobs to be pushed out sooner rather than later, if only so we wouldn’t have to endure another lecture about fiscal responsibility from Rock or early Apple investor Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney).
Or even worse, a lecture from Jobs himself. He gives so many inspirational speeches about innovation in Jobs that I was tempted to pull out my laptop and check my email. In between, he’s either haranguing some oaf about lack of productivity or firing someone. Do we get a sense of the man’s greatness? A bit, but mostly we get a sense of the man’s douchebaggery.
But Kutcher, whose acting chops haven’t been tested in all those pretty-boy lead roles, was a welcome surprise. His movie-star glow distracts, but there is a strong physical resemblance. Moreover, he’s got many of Jobs’ mannerisms down cold, from that T Rex–like walk to the fingers that fan the air and the yoga-style postures left over from his bohemian youth. It’s a good impression, but Jobs itself is all too impressionistic.