jOBS Review: Ashton Kutcher Does Well, But The Movie Fails To Think Different
For the last decade of his life the public image of Steve Jobs was the same every year: a man standing in front of a large crowd, showing them some incredible piece of technology, and reveling in the massive applause. Ideally in a biopic you're going to see something more, but jOBS starts off with that scene exactly-- Jobs showing the Apple team the iPod for the first time in 2001-- and repeats it a half dozen times. A biopic about a great man that's way too aware of his greatness, jOBS tells us a lot about the genius of Steve Jobs, but doesn't show us much of anything that actually reveals it.
As the closing night film of this year's Sundance Film Festival, jOBS takes a spot shared by less-than-auspicious titles like last year's The Words or Joel Schumacher's Twelve. It's much better than both of those movies, but its mediocrity is especially glaring given its constantly innovative subject. Surprisingly enough, Ashton Kutcher isn't to blame for any of it. He works hard not to rest on his basic physical similarities to Jobs, summoning the man's charisma and often harsh devotion to his work, delivering even the most audacious of monologues with the kind of gravitas you imagine Jobs had. Kutcher commits himself admirably to a near impossible part-- and it's a shame the rest of the film wasn't willing to work that hard.
It does get better after that egregious opening scene, which offers up the moment of triumph-- complete with swelling orchestral music-- before anything has actually happened. We start at the beginning, which is Reed College in the early 70s, where Jobs is already a dropout and convincing his friends to take LSD and sitting in a single calligraphy course that Jobs would later credit for much of Apple's design obsession. After a trip to India the computers come into play, when Jobs is employed by Atari and pissing off all his co-workers until he and his buddy Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) develop a game that's leaner and better than anything else there. Handed $5,000 for the project, Jobs strikes out on his own, and he and Wozniak start building their own machines in the Palo Alto garage that, like many other things in this movie, has since become legend.
The story follows the founding of Apple up until Jobs's ouster from it in 1986, a move depicted here entirely as the victory of cost-cutting corporate measures over creative genius. In that time he had also managed to alienate or fire nearly everyone who started the company with him, and though jOBS doesn't seem ashamed to admit to the man's flaws, it also doesn't really explore the impact it had on those around him. It would make more sense for the film to be focused largely around Jobs and those early collaborators, and how more corporate influences-- like investor Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) or new CEO John Sculley (Matthew Modine)-- tore them apart, but Matt Whiteley's script aims for too broad a focus. It even jumps ahead to 1996, when Jobs returned to the company and eventually led it to huge triumph, but that sequence amounts to just a frustrating coda, hinting at the much more substantial story of the iPod and iPhone days that this film is already too overstuffed to tell.
After 10 days of watching Sundance films that wholly reject traditional Hollywood formulas, it's exhausting to see the work Joshua Michael Stern does here, leaning heavily on an overbearing score and soft lighting and scenes that lay out the film's themes as broadly as a corporate presentation. The Steve Jobs of this movie, who's constantly berating his employees to come up with something better than the status quo, would have hated the pat sentiments and dull direction of jOBS. Apple urged people to think different. jOBS does anything but.
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