Film Review: “Jobs” — A Diverting But Superficial Look At the Life and Career of Steve Jobs
Jobs is not an awful movie so much as an awkward one—it falls short of its intent, which I assume is to dramatize the tenacity of genius.
Jobs. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern. At cinemas around New England.
By Tim Jackson
A couple of good reasons can justify a film biography. One is to romanticize the facts and turn real-life figures into popular myths, and the other is to reinvent the character through a great performance. Sometimes you can do both: ace biopic guilty pleasures include James Cagney as a rollicking George M. Cohen and William Bendix as a ridiculous Babe Ruth. Today this kind of resurrection requires a great script and performance in the title role. Lesser-known subjects can be beautifully re-imagined as with Robert DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta, Peter O’Toole’s T. E. Lawrence, or Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos. Bravura performances such as Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, George C Scott as Patton, or Ben Kingsley as Gandhi are generally buoyed by excellent writing and production. Grandstand performances—Bruno Ganz as Hitler or whatever Daniel Day-Lewis or Meryl Streep take on—are simply enormous fun.
Which brings me to Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs in Jobs. He bears a passing resemblance to his subject, looks convincingly monomaniacal at times, and can throw a mean temper tantrum. He even injured himself as he trained to imitate Jobs’s distinctive lope and slouch. But he’s not strong enough to overcome a script that hypes up conflict via laughable dialogue. It also makes the dreaded mistake of overusing music for emotional cues. Produced by a less than high profile director, Joshua Michael Stern, and a young, first time screenwriter, Matt Whiteley, Jobs has the bad habit of going for the overly dramatized moment. Biographies of living subjects run the risk of becoming no more than good TV movies. A film like The Social Network, on the other hand, had an imaginative Aaron Sorkin script, assisted by David Fincher’s assured direction and a cool soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Jobs is not an awful movie so much as an awkward one—it falls short of its intent, which I assume is to dramatize the tenacity of genius.
At its best, it is a diverting look at the early days at Apple Computer. Overall, the acting is pretty strong, with the performers looking a lot like the real guys. (Though several of these figures are reduced to stereotypes.) Josh Gad brings a suitably unkempt brand of nerdiness to Jobs’s partner Steve Wozniak, though I expect there is much more to a person of his genius. Dermot Mulroney’s honest portrayal of Mike Markkula peaked my curiosity about this early angel investor who became Apple’s second CEO. Mathew Modine is credible and dignified as John Scully, who increased Apple sales from from $800 million to $8 billion and became the highest paid executive in Silicon Valley. Bottom-line businessman and venture capitalist Arthur Rock is wonderfully realized by J. K. Simmons (the dad in Juno among other comedy roles).
Still, it’s not a good sign to find oneself chuckling at moments that should be wondrous or moving. The boardroom scenes are diverting, though they can’t help but melodramatize the ups and downs of Jobs’s early career.
While at times the film feels a glossy commercial for Apple, I had forgotten a lot of the company’s early history. The film made me hungry to learn more. I rented an engrossing documentary called Something Ventured about the great venture capitalists and started reading Walter Isaacson’s best seller, Steve Jobs. Next up Aaron Sorkin will write a script based on the Isaacson book. You might want to wait.