“That’s a true story that never happened,” Tim O’Brien wrote. Biopics are one of the most difficult films to pull off and one about a recently deceased genius even more so. “The Social Network,” about Apple’s rival, Facebook, managed it though. David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin made kids and their code sexy and relatable. “Game Change” did it too. Julianne Moore “maverick’d” her way to a deeper truth about an oft-mocked public figure. Both took liberties with facts, twisting and turning actual events into something that, while not a perfect facsimile, was emotionally true. “Jobs” fails in that respect, hewing so closely to real life that it misses the motherboard for the transistors. “Jobs” is filled with defects Steve Jobs himself would never tolerate. It never dares to think differently.
First-time screenwriter Matt Whiteley reportedly began work on “Jobs” once the real Steve Jobs took a medical leave of absence. His haste shows. I get the sense that Whiteley was secretly hoping he could trade a positive portrayal for early access to the new iPhone. Jobs’s volcanic temper is shown, but played as a tough-but-necessary tactic. A multitude of glittering montages portray Apple as da Vinci’s workshop, with pornographic close-ups of hardware that add nothing to the story itself. As fellow BroJackson writer Eddie Strait pointed out, watching the movie felt like checking boxes off Jobs’s resume.
Left out of the film were Jobs’s failures at NeXT, his role in antagonizing CEO John Sculley, and the film over-emphasized his role in creating the original Macintosh. Even the stickiest, most abhorrent sides of Jobs’s personality were brushed with euphemism. Jobs, when finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, kicks her out of his house and refuses to acknowledge his paternity, instead accusing her of sleeping around. This scene, by far the longest scene featuring a woman in the entire film (though it lasts all of two minutes), does not end with the horrified panic of his girlfriend, but of Steve crying in his room. The movie absolves him of his deepest sins. His unsavory characteristics, like verbally abusing employees, are portrayed as righteous necessities instead of personal failings. Unlike “The Social Network,” which featured both real and fictional acts of Zuckerberg’s egoism, leading to an honest portrayal of a brilliant, if sometimes misguided, kid, “Jobs” seeks to redeem its eponymous hero from any and all detractors.
When I first heard that Ashton Kutcher would play Jobs, I thought it was an inspired choice of casting. Kutcher had a chance to show the world his serious chops while using his natural charm to highlight Jobs’s sly puckishness. Sadly, he blew it. So concerned with nailing Jobs’s accent, affectation, and walk, Kutcher fails to connect with the complicated character. On “The Colbert Report,” Kutcher spoke of tapping into Jobs’s abandonment issues that stemmed from being adopted. That pain is nowhere on display, as Kutcher lumbers from scene to scene, never losing himself in the character. And Jobs’s inner hurt stemming from his adoption is only mentioned in passing, during a poorly constructed acid trip scene. The direction does nothing to aid Kutcher. One straight-on shot of Jobs behind the wheel in a rainstorm, looking positively perturbed before letting out a Simba-style roar, had me laughing out loud.
Perhaps the biggest flaw, in a movie full of them, is the lack of a thematic through-line. Besides Job’s life events, nothing connects each scene to the next. “The Social Network” was a true story that never happened. It achieved its veracity by exploring and exploiting the themes of friendship and betrayal. “Jobs” has no connective tissue, and thus, feels fake, like one of those knockoff Mac clones that were allowed only once Jobs left Apple. Ripe subjects like the cost of genius or the ironic implication of a man like Jobs insisting on beauty “inside and out,” are all left on the table to rot. When agreeing to Walter Isaacson’s tell-all biography, Steve’s only instance was that he tell the truth. Whitely and Kutcher fail to do that here.
“Jobs” is the Windows 95 of biopics. While it gets the job done, it does so slowly, without finesse or any desire for perfection. Steve Jobs is one of the most confounding geniuses of our time. He deserves far better than this vaporware.