JOBS Review: Falling Asleep on the jOBS
When it comes to certain products, I am what marketers like to call “brand-loyal.” Since my teens (and this is no exaggeration), I have been brand loyal to Pepsi Cola, Levi’s 501 jeans, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and Reebok sneakers. I simply prefer the taste/fit/look/style of these brands to any other product out there, and since they’ve made me happy for a very long time, why would I change? Recently, I’ve added Apple to that list.
Over the last 10 years, beginning with an early generation iPod, my household has slowly amassed a collection of Apple products and we’ve been happy with all of them – so much so that I don’t see us diverging from the brand on future purchases. We’re not zealots, mind you. We don’t wait in long lines and drop stacks of cash on every release of every Apple product, but when it comes time to upgrade a device, Apple is our only stop.
It’s partly because of this that I was eager to see jOBS, the biopic about late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. I was also eager to see it because Jobs always had this aura about him (at least as far as he was portrayed in the media) as the closest thing we’ve had to Thomas Edison in our generation. That’s not to say there haven’t been great advancements in so many other fields in the last 30 years – there have been. But Jobs made advancements events. If you don’t believe me, name the last time people camped-out in line on the release date of a new refrigerator.
jOBS opens in 2001, at an internal presentation at Apple headquarters. In the audience are Apple employees, and presenting to them is co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher). The product he introduces to them – borne of what is suggested to be yet another secret project that he is known for executing – is the iPod, which he declares will allow people to carry 1,000 songs in their pockets.
The story of how Steve Jobs got to be Steve Jobs flashes back to his college days. He isn’t enrolled, opting instead to roam the campus barefoot, hang out with friends, and get high. Urged by a professor he had when he actually attended school (James Woods), Jobs sits in on some classes and finds himself drawn to technology. Fast-forward to his days as a game designer at Atari, where his boss thinks he’s brilliant but his coworkers find him boorish (and odorous). When he solicits game-design help from old friend Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), Jobs sees something “Woz” is working on – a computer with a keyboard and a screen that will allow users to see what is happening in real time.
Jobs seizes on this innovation, makes a very savvy sales pitch to a local retailer, and voila – Apple Computers is born. It first operates out of Jobs’ parents’ garage with Woz and a few others (including Rod Holt, played by Ron Eldard) until investor Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) offers Jobs the financing that acts as the seed that grows the company – although not without tumult – into what it is today.
Read the following sentence and tell me what film comes to mind:
A tech-savvy 20-something with a razor-sharp business sense and a massive ego betrays friends and permanently damages relationships on his way to becoming the king of society-altering technology.
If you said The Social Network, go to the head of the class. And yet that film, about the meteoric rise of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, covers a period of time decades shorter than the Steve Jobs era, and its associated product (Facebook), while very much an integral part of society today, is insignificant when compared to what Apple has done to advance personal technology.
And yet jOBS‘ director Joshua Michael Stern takes a greater fertile creative foundation from which was born a better technological product and makes an immeasurably worse film. In fact, all comparisons aside, I don’t know how he and Kutcher could have taken such a rich subject and turn it into a remarkably dull biopic.
It’s all very checkbox-driven storytelling, as if specific points in Jobs’ life were selected to be represented in the film, were shot and edited, and then presented in the film. Jobs at college? Check. Jobs stealing a life-changing idea from Woz? Check. Jobs forming Apple in his parents’ garage? Check. And so on, throughout the entire film. Box? Check. And never is anything explored about the ramifications of Jobs’ decisions or behavior. Even Woz, perhaps the greatest victim of Jobs’ quest for success, just … resigns. Yes, it’s a biopic about Jobs, not Woz, but the impact of Jobs’ actions against his partner (of all people) surely must be at least mentioned.
Making matters worse is Kutcher. He is so focused on getting the mannerisms right – the gait, the hand gestures, the cadence of speech – that he fails to act. Physically he is the spitting image of Jobs, but from an acting standpoint, throughout the entire film, he isn’t portraying Steve Jobs, he is pretending to be Steve Jobs. That might work well on an SNL sketch, but it doesn’t work here. Not once did Kutcher compel me with his characterization. It’s as if director and star made a pact before the cameras rolled that neither would artistically challenge the other. And not do so at a glacially-paced 122 minutes.
There are a couple of bright spots, though. I like Eldard’s character, even though there was nothing dazzling about Eldard’s performance. I’m not sure why – although I’m guessing its because of the Hell’s Angel exterior that contrasts with what the rest of the nerds look like, yet being a nerd at heart inside. I also like Mulroney. Beyond the original Apple team, his is the longest tenure with Jobs and he is in most of the film, which is a benefit.
But the true gem is Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak. It’s a genuine performance of a true computer nerd. It would have been easy to play the role as stereotype, especially given Gad’s comedic skills (he is an alum of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and a Tony-nominated original cast member of The Book of Mormon). Instead Gad plays it with perfect pitch – that of a true introvert whose technical genius is no match for the force of nature that is Steve Jobs. Through Gad, Woz is the human ventriloquist’s dummy: he’s the reason why people plunk down their money, but he is voiceless without Jobs. I would suffer this film again for his scenes alone.
After the screening, I mentioned that jOBS was the most boring corporate video I had ever seen, but really the entire film is assembled more like a giant PowerPoint presentation, with each fact properly represented on its given page, but laying flat on the screen and putting its audience to sleep.