Jobs *** (out of five)
Ashton Kutcher is extremely good as Steve Jobs in Joshua Michael Stern’s Jobs, which covers the computer pioneer’s life from just after college to when he rejoined Apple in 1996 after having been forced from the company in 1985. The movie itself, however, is wildly uneven. It contains some of the most inspiring, moving, goosebump-inducing moments, scenes and speeches that I’ve seen thus far this year, but also some truly cringeworthy ones. It’s as though two different creative teams made the film, swapping scene-for-scene, and only one of them was any good.
Comparisons to The Social Network are inevitable, and Jobs is not in the same league. The Social Network had a great central focus, being the lawsuit over the creation of Facebook, where Jobs is content to be an extremely conventional biopic, telling the story of a man without necessarily finding the story about him.
Nevertheless, the man is Jobs, who’s essentially a fascinating guy, and with Kutcher’s excellent performance and a stack of terrific supporting turns, the material holds even as some of the scenes wobble dangerously. It’s a business story showing the birth of a business man (from the womb of a purely creative one) and has no time for female relationships and completely avoids “the big C”, for which I was very grateful. A subplot about Jobs’ abandonment of his daughter remains just that, touched on but obviously not particularly favored by Stern or screenwriter Matt Whiteley. This is a film about boardroom battles, not battles of the heart.
I’m revising this review on an iPad, while my dog plays with the other dogs in the dog park. I wrote the initial draft on a MacBook after taking a couple of notes immediately after the screening by speaking into my iPhone. These are the tools of my trade and they were all, essentially, created for me by Steve Jobs. There was no way I was going to miss this movie, and there are a lot of people out there like me, whose entire lives involve products that have sprung directly from the mind of, or been heavily influenced by, Jobs. I’m glad the movie is as good as it is. Jobs, if he was anything approaching the pathological perfectionist he is portrayed as here, would probably tear it to shreds, finishing with the line, said in the movie to an employee he has just fired, “What are you still doing here?”
If there is a theme to the movie, something beyond just telling a couple of decades in the life of a man, it is that Jobs was his own worst enemy (this is actually directly stated by a character, indicative of when the film gets too obvious and ham-fisted). We see Jobs lose his temper pretty early on, and he does it again about every fifteen minutes. It’s a flaw, but not a fatal one (the fatal one was “the big C”, and that’s a disease anyway). Unlike the vast majority of biopic subjects, Jobs was not a musician with a drinking or drug problem. His temper, as the film’s centrifuge of conflict, feels a little forced; since it’s not a “monster movie” like Mommie Dearest, Raging Bull and What’s Love Got To Do With It, the insistent scenes of Jobs losing his cool feel like the filmmakers grasping for conflict. The man changed the world, isn’t that enough story?
But obviously Jobs was temperamental, and obviously his huge vision brought him into conflict with those members of his board who were concerned with shareholders, and this dynamic forms the movie’s spine, with JK Simmons, one of the great comedians, giving an excellent straight dramatic performance as the Chairman of Apple’s board in the 1980s. Dermot Mulroney is terrific as Mike Markkula, the first proper Apple investor, and Josh Gad does a lovely, totally believable turn as Steve Wozniak. Women are barely a presence.
There were moments in this movie that I was hugely moved. It is also terrific fun every time a major product makes its appearance: it’s the Apple II! Here’s Lisa! And now let’s bring out the Macintosh! The period detail is precise without being overbearing, there are nice music selections based on Jobs’ own preferences, and California is portrayed as almost a paradise, a sun-kissed land of warmth and color (wait till you see the Apple Campus!) Geeks will see this film; if you’ve never owned an Apple product it will essentially be of no interest; the unspoken lesson of the film is that, if you can afford a cinema ticket, you’ve probably, at least once, bitten the Apple.