So I went to see Jobs yesterday, because I was in the mood to see a movie in theatres (I like going to see movies in theatres; some people whine incessantly about other people making noise and disturbing their precious experience, but I like the communal aspect of moviegoing) and it was either Jobs or The Wolverine and I think Marvel has found my limit because I simply do not want to see that movie even a little. At this point if you want me to watch another film in the X-franchise, you’d better be promising to bring back Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, and then maybe we can talk.
So, it was Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, and I freely admit I went mostly because I wanted to be ready for the inevitable Rifftrax release, because the trailer for Jobs is cheesy and awful – every line is predictable and it features both “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and “Baba O’Reilly” by the Who, which is a one-two punch of “trailer cliche songs” (and yes, the Macklemore song is already a trailer cliche after less than four months, that is how fast it became one; it basically arrived pre-cliched). And it’s got blurbs, most of which are pointless (oh, Gizmodo said not to miss it, well then).
Now that I have seen it, I can say that Ashton Kutcher is going to get most of the blame for this thing flopping, because he is front and center and it is the predictable and easy narrative to say “ha ha Kelso from That 70s Show as Steve Jobs” but really, it’s not his fault. Kutcher does a good job with what he’s given: he does his best to inhabit the Jobs character in this, doesn’t shy away from giving an unsympathetic performance (because, let’s be honest, Steve Jobs was a dickhead) and delivers a performance that is overall quite solid. Really, there’s a number of great character actors in this – JK Simmons, Dermot Mulroney, Matthew Modine, Josh Gad – and they all deliver rock-solid work with what they’re given.
Here is the problem: they are given mostly crap. To its credit, Jobs doesn’t shy away from Steve Jobs being a dickhead: many of the deplorable and awful things he did during his life (blackballing fellow Apple founders because he could, refusing to acknowledge his daughter because he wanted to pretend he wasn’t the father, cheating on his girlfriend – hell, literally the first appearance of Steve Wozniak in the film is when Jobs fucks over Wozniak for a couple thousand bucks without Woz’s knowledge). But the film has no greater narrative arc than “Steve Jobs was a shithead and also a genius” and doesn’t back it up: Wozniak rather than Jobs is the brains behind the Apple II, Jobs royally screws up the Macintosh by making it too costly to sell cheap, and then BAM iPod and iMac and all that sort of thing. In this movie, Steve Jobs isn’t a tempestuous genius; he’s a child who keeps repeating a mantra and getting other people to do the work for him, which ironically comes off unfair to him. We’re talking about his supposedly hagiographic biopic here! (I mean, I am hardly an Apple fanboy, but come on, credit where credit is due.)
Worse, because Jobs’ bad behaviour is not given proper context (any number of personal traumas in his life, remember), the movie is aimless. It drifts about from incident to incident rather than having a narrative heft. This is intensified when you consider how much the movie leaves out: after a brief prelude where he’s bragging about the iPod to Apple employees, it begins with Jobs in 1974, bumming around in college, goes through the founding of Apple through to Jobs’ ouster from the company in 1985, and then eleven years pass. No discussion of Jobs’ early life (which is interesting) other than a token mention of his adoption during an unintentionally-hilarious LSD trip early on. The time away from Apple, where he founded NeXT and co-founded Pixar, is literally covered in fifteen seconds, and then we spend the last fifteen percent of the movie covering Jobs being put back in charge at Apple and that’s the ballgame.
Aaron Sorkin is writing a Jobs movie right now, and he’s going minimalist – apparently his movie is three half-hour setpieces, each one taking place immediately before a major Apple product launch. That’s a really interesting way of approaching Jobs, because the product launches were his greatest moments of influence (at a guess, they’ll be Apple II, Macintosh and iPhone) and it plays to Sorkin’s strengths, because if you’re gonna write three bottle episodes and call it a movie, you can do much worse than to hire Sorkin. The other way you could go for Jobs is to do an HBO-style miniseries, a technocratic version of John Adams. But Jobs tries to cover everything and fails miserably. It simply leaves out too much, and tries to cover that with brief asides and single sentences, and the cheats don’t work.
Oh, and did I mention the dialogue yet? Because it’s so bad, guys. Putting aside the numerous standing ovations Jobs gets during this movie (which are just an opportunity to repackage Jobs-speak and Apple marketing talk as dialogue), if you listen to the dialogue in that trailer, you have to understand it gets worse than that. No cliche is spared, no predictable line avoided. You will be able to quote this movie in advance of seeing it. Which makes it so deliciously awful that really, I have to recommend the experience. Although you may wish to get stoned first. I am sure Steve Jobs would approve of that.