Friday, August 23, 2013
Is it possible, after spending over two hours watching a movie biography, to know less about its subject than you did coming in? Such is the case with Joshua Michael Stern's appallingly inept "Jobs," which portrays Apple founder Steve Jobs as an arrogant, megalomaniacal prick who motivated his workforce with the bland anything-is-possible clichés you'd have found at an est seminar or a Dianetics convention.
Nowhere in sight is the charisma that made Jobs synonymous with the newly successful Apple of the 21st century. The reaction of a human being (let alone the best and brightest) to Jobs' behavior in this movie would not be to smile, get up and follow him anywhere but politely to suggest that he go kick rocks.
Ashton Kutcher plays Jobs, or rather plays at him. I'm afraid this will not be, as Kutcher undoubtedly hoped, the movie that causes major directors to rethink their assessments of him. For long chunks of its indulgent runtime - especially after he's shaved the beard and forgotten to throw in a mannerism for a while - that's just Ashton Kutcher up there on the screen.
Matt Whiteley's script is fuzzy on a lot of matters, but especially Jobs' personal life. At college, he has sex with a girl who seems quite fond of him and bums some of her LSD. "Thanks," he says, "It'll be great to take this with my girlfriend." Some years later, a different girlfriend tells him she's pregnant with his baby. His response is immediately to kick her out of the house: "I haven't got time for this!" Then, after endless scenes of boardroom politics, he's kicking back in a palatial Silicon Valley estate with a wife and two kids. Who are they? How'd they get there?
Similarly confusing are several scenes in which Jobs negotiates prices and percentages with suppliers and distributors. In one, his Apple colleagues, including Steve Wozniak (the always annoying Josh Gad), gape open-mouthed as Jobs rattles off his terms to a potential VC investor, sounding like a cross between a Wharton professor and an IP lawyer at Wilson Sonsini. How did he - a stoner who dropped out of Reed - come to possess this acumen? It's as much a mystery to us as to them.
Stern's approach to storytelling is to include a musical montage in almost every scene. Rarely do two minutes go by without a pop song playing (has the soundtrack to a single movie ever been released as a box set?). A plurality of scenes end with someone asking a question - "How can that be?" - and Stern zooming in meaningfully on Jobs' smug, smirking face. Don't ask how he knows - he just knows.
By the end, you realize you've learned nothing about Jobs and even less about the men (yes, all men) surrounding him. "Jobs" is pretty much a 127-minute commercial for Apple. As a film, it's the pits.