Movie Review: Jobs falls short of its namesake’s legacy
“This will touch your heart,” declares a jeans and sneakers clad Ashton Kutcher at the start of Jobs. Unfortunately, he’s referring to a shiny first generation iPod, not Joshua Stern’s biopic on the creator of Apple. The movie opens with a staff meeting at the tech company back in 2001, as Jobs reveals the music player that would change the industry. Much like an Apple commercial, the camera circles its product in grand swoops, but this time it’s not the technology that’s being sold—it’s Steve Jobs himself.
From the beginning, Jobs sets up its namesake as a tortured artist of sorts. Walking barefoot around Reed’s campus, a young Steven, as his professors call him, tries to convince his friends to follow his lead and drop out of college. At first, the movie plays his anti-establishment attitude off as the restlessness of any college student in the 70s. Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” cheesily sets the mood for Jobs’ carefree wanderings around campus, and drug trips in open fields show him trying to grasp at something greater than himself.
Though the setup for Jobs’ creative breakthrough doesn’t inspire, one thing Stern does well is depict just how revolutionary the founding of Apple was. Jobs had the talent—or perhaps the stubbornness—to refuse the impossibility of turning his imaginations into realities. Josh Gad plays a nerdy reality check to him as Apple’s co-founder, Steve Wozniak a.k.a “Woz.” It’s when the two interact that Stern drives his point home: by making the computer a home appliance, Apple completely changed how normal people interact with technology. In one scene, Woz nonchalantly shows Jobs what he’s calling an “operating system” as he clacks away at the first model of the keyboard. Though Jobs lacked the technical expertise of his partner, he was the one to realize the immense potential in the invention.
Jobs would have done well to spend more time on the days when the small team of Apple employees—just a couple 20-somethings hoping to stake a place in Silicon Valley—smoldered motherboards in their parents’ basement. A slow motion scene of Jobs and his friends compiling the Apple I is set to rock music, comically adding some sexiness to the process. But soon the investors swoop in, and the movie turns its focus to the corporate battle for the control of Apple. Stern gets caught up in telling the saga of CEOs and stakeholders, making the struggle get dull fast.
Ashton Kutcher isn’t much to blame for the uninspired presentation of Jobs’ career. He’s at his best when playing an angry Jobs, whether yelling at his pregnant girlfriend or firing employees over their disregard for the importance of fonts. Early on at Atari, Jobs’ boss sums up the character Stern casts for the Apple founder: “You’re good. You’re damned good. But you’re an asshole.” And though unflattering, it’s the asshole that makes the movie interesting. However, Jobs tries to balance its namesake’s different personalities, strewing scenes with forced inspirational speeches that get tired.
True to Jobs’ obsession for style and simplicity, the last frame of the movie simply shows the Apple creator’s name above his birth and death dates in a crisp white typeface against a black screen. This curtain close aspires to elicit an emotional response, but it falls flat. Instead, it’s an appropriate finish to a mediocre movie, because in the end, Jobs simply serves as a broad-stroked obituary.
The saga of the Apple company isn’t interesting enough to carry the movie through. And while nods are made to Jobs’ brilliance, we don’t need a movie to tell us the importance of Apple’s innovations—the evidence is all around us. When the big screen went black, hundreds of tiny iPhone screens lit up in the theatre. Those phones proclaimed Jobs’ legacy better than any director could.