One of the hardest parts of watching a movie about a person who was a notoriously awful human being is that you have to suffer through their on-screen misdeeds.
The 1970 classic “Patton” portrays a half-psychotic general who slapped around war-traumatized soldiers coming back from the front, pairing his military genius with the fact that he was a pretty contemptible guy. In short, this movie made a repugnant person into a complex, human character for whom the audience felt complicated emotions.
“Jobs,” however, doesn’t just make you sit through the moments when Steve Jobs left his wife (and unborn daughter), screwed his initial business partners out of millions of dollars and drove 1980s Apple into the ground building products no one wanted. It makes you sit in torment through all of this and then watch as The Mock Turtleneck Who Could does all these terrible things and then gets rewarded by becoming an American icon.
The film’s lack of a moral arc and human complexity is only the first problem plaguing director Joshua Michael Stern’s movie. The script is about as natural a prose as the back of a cereal box and, yes, Ashton Kutcher was as bad playing the role as you anticipated that he would be. Upstaged by Josh Gad’s far more nuanced performance as Steve Wozniak, Kutcher’s Jobs is a manic, quirky mess.
Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi once referred to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman as a “Flaubert in reverse,” someone “incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius.” Stern’s “Jobs” is cut from the same cloth.
In its entirety, “Jobs” is a bad movie, going full-bore every step of the way. One example of this is the portrayal of Jobs’ relationship with his daughter Lisa, whom he abandoned and continued to deny paternity of for years after her birth. Forgoing a meaningful discussion about the nature of missing fathers and their neglected progeny, “Jobs” opts instead to have Kutcher complain to Lisa’s stepmom that Lisa sleeps too much.
Similarly, when Jobs and his investor discuss which of the initial Apple employees will receive choice stock options, he throws all but two others under the bus, claiming that their lack of vision and managerial expertise warranted screwing them out of the business they helped found. One of these workers who lost out on millions in stock options later resurfaces on a Jobs-led design team, apparently having forgotten and forgiven Jobs offscreen for enriching himself at the expense of virtually everyone around him.
Given the movie’s awfulness and my lack of interest in exploring said awfulness any further, I surmise there are three key reasons this movie was made.
First, Jobs died two years ago, and it was about time that someone turned the story of his life into a way to make money.
Second, the timeliness of Ashton Kutcher’s need for a career revival inevitably would have resulted in some project like this. At least now we know Kutcher is a “serious actor.”
Finally, “Jobs” is the latest installment in the trend of Silicon Valley movies coming to theaters near you. Beginning with “The Social Network” and also spawning this year’s awful “The Internship,” deifying tech industry figures is the trend du jour. If you need any proof, Aaron Sorkin is attached to yet another Steve Jobs biopic to be released sometime in the next couple of years.