Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs seems like he’d be an interesting guy. A college drop out that rose to the top of the tech world seemingly by uncompromising vision and sheer force of will. He was a perfectionist and quick to temper but by all accounts an inspiring leader and in his lifetime changed a great many things about the way we now think of computers.
There’s a lot of potential for a great movie there. This movie is not that movie though.
So let’s just get this out of the way right now: Ashton Kutcher isn’t this movie’s problem. He’s fine. He’s pretty good, in fact. He indeed looks and acts like Steve Jobs, down to the body language and the way he talked. The fact that he looks the part a bit already doesn’t exactly hurt either. I’m not saying it’s an Oscar worthy performance, however he isn’t bad and neither is anyone else in the movie. The problem with this movie is that it’s so busy rushing from each big moment in Jobs life to the next that it never stops to tells us why we should give a shit about any of it.
For example at the start of the movie Steve Jobs is dropping acid in a field with his girlfriend and best friend and starts to cry, wondering aloud why his birth parents gave him up. This is followed by some “oh you poor soul” from the girl and “not this again” from the best friend and then a scene of him walking into the middle of the field and doing some kind of strange ritual dance that becomes a montage of some of his times at college and working with electronics.
Fast forward a bit and the girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant and he immediately claims it couldn’t possibly be his child and orders her out of his house and his life. Fast forward to the end of the movie and this child is now a teenager who is living with him and his now wife, happy and content.
Now this might seem like a spoiler but I’ve just told you literally everything I know about the situation. There’s no real explanation as to why he refuses the child other than “I’m busy right now” and no one ever asks “given that you are so messed up by feeling abandoned by your birth parents, how can you give up this daughter?” Nothing. Nada.
It’s infuriating because it really feels like there could be a lot of set up for the characters arc for when he later reconciles with his daughter, however we don’t get to see that reconciliation. After he’s ousted from Apple in 1985 the film jumps forward 11 years to 1996, the year Apple bought his new company and brought him back into the fold. We now see him living with a wife and children and his teenage daughter is living with them and they are all happy. There’s no breakdown by Jobs, not admitting his past failures or regrets, no tearful or awkward reunion, just “now we are all happy.”
So while it’s called Jobs the movie should actually be called Steve Jobs at Apple, because those are the only parts of the story that get any attention but even they don’t get enough detail to convince me I should care. Case in point, during the development of the Macintosh we see an early version of Windows which spurs Steve to call Bill Gates and launch into a tirade. However to this point we’ve never seen nor heard of Bill Gates in the movie, never heard what he’s working on or doing and there’s also no mention of Jobs and Gates going to Xerox and seeing the first graphical user interface, a sequence that would have lent at least some context to the situation.
So many other parts of the companies history that should be important are glossed over with montages as well, meaning that they don’t really get the weight they deserve. The hiring of John Sculley (the man who would eventually Oust Jobs from Apple) for example is depicted with a montage of quick cut flashes from meetings and conversations. These are all clearly scenes they had to shoot in full as well, so whether they were made into montages for time or because the scenes were terrible I guess we’ll never know.
More to the point though the film does a pretty terrible job of making me believe that he was an inspiring leader. Lots of people in the movie look at him with awe when he says things, there’s a lot of scenes of Jobs talking to a group of people who are nodding and smiling and clearly thinking “only this god among men could have these ideas and they are the best ideas and I could never have thought of them”, but mostly he just freaks out and fires anyone who questions him. There’s also a lot of scenes with people talking about Jobs vision but all this is overshadowed by the scenes of Jobs actually doing things, and in those scenes I was never lead to believe that he was anything other than an asshole.
Basically the movie plays like a greatest hits reel of all the scenes in Steve Jobs life that most of us already know about. He went to college and dropped out, he founded Apple with friends, screwed a couple of them over, and then was ousted. Then he came back and everyone lived happily ever after. It spends so much energy on getting from one seminal moment to the next that it basically ignores everything in between.
If you’re one of the people who lines up at Apple Stores for days ahead of new iPhone releases then you might want to see this movie. If you’re a hardcore fan of Apple or Steve Jobs then you might want to see this movie. You shouldn’t though because it’s not good.