Synopsis: The story of Steve Jobs’ ascension from college dropout into one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Modine
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Running Length: 122 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: If this biopic of the late founder of Apple had been produced as a television movie for HBO I have a feeling that it would have fared a little better. As it is, this big-screen examination of the life and career of Steve Jobs feels strangely small as it struggles against bigger ideas…in Apple speak, it’s a iPod Shuffle that wants to be an iPad.
Last week I reviewed Lovelace, another slight biopic that seemed more interested in dramatizing situations that were public knowledge rather than getting under the skin of its central character. So instead of presenting a story that’s equal parts character study and history lesson, jOBS seems content to portray the head honcho of Apple as a prick (which is totally fine because most everyone agrees it was more or less true) but never gives us a glimpse into how his life brought him to that place. In 2010’s similarly-themed The Social Network, we learned just as much about the life of founder Mark Zuckerberg as we did about his path to leading Facebook into history. There’s precious little of that insight here…the movie simply tells us Jobs knew the right people, created something innovative, and continued to refashion himself and his company as the years went on. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Though jOBS works well enough to hold the viewers interest most of the time, there’s a trivial blandness to the proceedings that the movie and performances never can seem to shake. Lacking a true oneness between the source subject and the events of his life, the performances are middle of the road with no one really standing out. That turns out to be a problem for its star who can’t complete the climb in transitioning Jobs from a hippie college student to a steely mogul that succumbed to cancer in 2011. Ashton Kutcher’s boyishness gets in the way of truly succeeding in the role and instead of having the reserved character lash out from fear of failure; it only comes off as unfounded petulance. Though Kutcher nails the shuffling gait and hushed line delivery (I swear,78% of the entire dialogue in jOBS is spoken in a near-whisper), he just isn’t able to tie the two ends of this famed life together and the result is only half convincing.
Surrounding Kutcher is a fraternity of dependable actors like Lukas Haas as a college friend of Jobs and Dermot Mulroney (Stoker, Copycat), J.K. Simmons, and Matthew Modine as Apple execs that wind up getting in the way of the plans Jobs has for the future of the company he founded. I normally don’t care for Josh Gad (The Internship, Thanks for Sharing) but his performance as Steve Wozniak is one of his better big screen turns though it’s frustrating that the script by first-time screenwriter Matt Whitely gives Gad not one but two closely timed big monologues that essentially say the exact same thing.
Director Joshua Michael Stern’s last film was 2008’s Swing Vote and he’s a surprisingly little known choice for a project with a topic as well-known as jOBS. The film isn’t a mega-budget spectacle but it looks fine for its humble origins and the money was carefully spent on making the last three decades look especially believable without making a left turn into parody.
Perhaps reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs would be a better primer for those interested in learning more about what made this notoriously private man the way he was. If you’re heading into jOBS thinking you’ll learn more the man who helped create the iPhone, you’ll be disappointed. Those who prefer their late-summer films non-challenging and moderately entertaining might get a bit more out of this.