I’m not sure life works the way it does in biopics—as a collection of big moments strung along a clothesline. I bet Steve Jobs fondly remembered the day he looked meaningfully into space and thought of the name for Apple computers. I’m sure he chuckled when he thought back to the day that he looked meaningfully into space as a small-time computer parts retailer gave him the idea for the consumer-friendly accessibility that would be a staple of his business model. And I bet he got real nostalgic when he thought of the time he retook control of Apple in the mid-1990s and looked meaningfully into space and imagined how he would make the company the most valuable in the world over the next 15 years. If we are to believe Jobs (2013), those things happened, and because, like Steve himself, we know the ending, they’re meant to be inspirational, powerful moments. There are many ways in which Steve Jobs and I are different. According to his biopic, he liked to stare meaningfully into space. When I watched his biopic, I was just staring into space.
The movie shows a series of moments in the life of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher), the Apple Computer founder who died in 2011. We see the things that inspired him and certainly the shuffling cast of characters who in various ways helped him realize his inspiration. These include Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), his oldest friend and most trusted collaborator; Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), his first angel investor; and a cadre of developers and businessmen who oscillate between being advancers of Steve’s vision and obstacles to it. The story spans the earliest days, from the time Jobs and Wozniak were making motherboards in the Jobs family garage to the early-’80s rise of Apple, through to Jobs’ forcible removal from the company he founded and his reacquisition of it. Because the movie is conventional and uninspired (two things Jobs would have hated, I would imagine), it is simply a collection of the things Steve Jobs did; it is not a movie about Steve Jobs or any other person because it is only a movie of facts that happened. It’s a Wikipedia page projected on a big screen.
Quick question: Can you think of the last biopic you saw that didn’t begin with a scene from the subject in old age, or after he or she had achieved success, then proceeded to his or her early days? The problem with this formula, which has been unbendingly rigid in the last 15 years, is that these movies read like obituaries; they start with why our subject is worthy of a biopic and go from there. The trouble is, people don’t live their lives that way. I know they say great men just knew they were great, but that doesn’t mean they’ve read the script. This robs us of an opportunity to know these people, to learn who they are, to identify with them as people because they are only the accumulation of the things they’ve done. Biopics this way don’t read like portraits of a man, they read like creative book reports. Jobs spends a lot of time coldly denying his friends, meticulously reworking his projects and mercilessly pressing his vision. Why does he do this? We find out shallow inspirations (appliances, TV commercials, etc.), but what drives him? Beats me. There may not be an answer to these questions, but Jobs isn’t even looking, it’s just reciting.
I don’t know how else to say it, but when Kutcher gets mad, which he does frequently in this movie, I have a visceral, gut reaction to just giggle. It’s like when Will Ferrell gets angry, there’s such fury, but it doesn’t come from a place of intelligence. It’s a blunt, dumb anger and it just makes me laugh. Here Kutcher fires an employee: “Get out,” he hisses. I chuckle. He threatens a different employee, “Get the fuck out of my way.” I’m trying to hold it in. When he calls and threatens Bill Gates, I lost it. Most of this is the script’s fault; its ham-fisted and overwrought and, frankly, makes Steve Jobs look like an unhinged lunatic. But the other problem is that Kutcher is miscast. He looks like Jobs, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s a gifted comedic actor whose main gift is acting dumb (no small talent, believe me, nor is that an indicator that Kutcher himself is dumb), and they’ve put him in a role where he has to be three dozen steps in front of everyone else. This reinforces the simple and shallow interest the movie has; it’s not interested in digging deep to find out who its subject is—just grab someone who looks like him and let’s go.
This is lazy filmmaking, sloppily assembled and executed by director Joshua Michael Stern. Steve Jobs was a person of great importance in the last 40 years and a man of great vision. He’s now the subject of a movie with no vision and worse, no point of view.