Director Joshua Michael Stern‘s (Swing Vote) biopic of Apple founder Steve Jobs isn’t without it’s moments, even if the the screenplay by Matt Whitely brings nothing new to the party or fails to reveal anything previously unknown about Jobs’ life or the the rise of Apple Computers from a garage to a multi-billion dollar brand. Where it begins to get tedious, however, is in its never-ending praise of Jobs’ apparently limitless genius and all things Apple.
The story is relatively simple as Jobs (played surprisingly well by Ashton Kutcher) is the very much the cliched pretentious genius who doesn’t play well with others. From his humble beginnings, we watch as Jobs uses the expertise of Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), a far more interesting and sympathetic figure than Jobs in almost every respect who doesn’t earn nearly enough screentime, along with the help of Bill Fernandez (Victor Rasuk), Rod Holt (Ron Eldard), and financier Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) to launch the beginnings of what would grow to become a vast computer empire.
The movie has no trouble pointing out Jobs’ trouble working well with others or his prickish behavior to both friends and family, the only thing separating the scene of Jobs throwing out his pregnant girlfriend (Amanda Crew) from an old black and white serial is the the character not twirling a thick black mustache. However, Whitely’s script forgives all of the man’s flaws and mistakes without ever holding him accountable. Whether it be the failures of Lisa or the Macintosh, or his boorish behavior to his friends and family, the script never stops looking for somewhere else to place blame or use Jobs’ unquestioned genius to excuse his bad behavior.
Despite this questionable method of storytelling, which borders on propaganda from both Apple and its founders, Stern definitely shows off some filmmaking ability here in his choice of casting as well as getting the best out of his lead actor and supporting players. When not trying to be a commercial for Apple, the director puts together several strong scenes showcasing the foibles and relationships of Jobs and those closest to him, especially the scenes between Kutchner and Gad and also those between Kutchner and John Getz (playing Steve Jobs’ father).
Beginning with the introduction of the iPod, before jumping back into Jobs’ college years, and ending with Jobs’ return to Apple, the movie glosses over large stretches of the man’s life including his years apart from the company he created, his medical issues and fight with cancer, and the successes Apple achieved after he returned. As so much time is wasted early on with the “shocking” revelation that Jobs slept around and did drugs in college, I was sorry to see these years completely ignored.
It’s hard to see Jobs as anything more than a cash grab on the heels of the success of the similarly-themed The Social Network. Kutchner shows more dramatic range than he’s had to in most of his career, and he does well at recreating Jobs’ lumbering gate (even if it does feel a bit overused) and various idiosyncrasies. The words Windows and Bill Gates are only uttered once, and by laying nearly all of Apple’s troubles at the feet of others (who obviously didn’t understand or got in the way of what Jobs was trying to achieve) the film ignores rich dramatic territory that could have been mined for a more well-rounded film.