'Jobs' gets the pink slip
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
The mythologization of deceased Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has now reached critical big screen biopic levels, with the first feature film about the often-controversial and always-driven entrepreneur and tech whiz hitting theaters in the form of Joshua Michael Stern's "Jobs." The film originally premiered under the title "jOBS" at the Sundance Film Festival back in January of this year, but while the Ashton Kutcher-starring film may have kicked its titular affectation, it's still prone to plenty of similarly leaning machinations within its actual content. Simply put, "Jobs" tries to have it both ways -- a pop sensibility with a serious story -- and comes up short on both accounts. The film's lack of commitment to its own tone and style is indicative of the film as a whole. While it may provide temporary satisfaction, it lacks the staying power and impact of even Jobs' most mundane creations.
The film tackles a wide swathe of Jobs' life -- from his college years in the 1970s all the way up to the introduction of the first iPod in 2001. Though it's often a well-paced affair that clips along quite neatly and nicely, cramming that amount of real time into just two hours of movie runtime ensure that a bevy of events are skipped over (or just plain muddled -- good luck parsing the story of Jobs and his first child, Lisa).
Director Joshua Michael Stern and marketing-professional-turned-commissioned-screenwriter Matt Whitely have littered their film with the sort of bland biopic tricks typically seen in productions with both lower budgets and dimmer star power (read: television movies). "Jobs" comes complete with plenty of montages, perhaps the least interesting and creative method of moving plot points ahead and conveying big chunks of information to an audience, and their continued use is aggravating and elementary. Whiteley also seems to struggle when it comes to delivering exposition and emotion in an organic manner. "Jobs" is the sort of film that all but demands that its lead character actually utters the words "I've changed" at a key moment instead of relying on plot and performance to show that said change has taken place. John Debney's score is particularly over-the-top and a persistent symptom of the badly handled biopic, instantly conveying the sense that something great and triumphant notable is happening whenever a note rings out.
Yet, for all of its often hammy handling of Jobs, one the most complicated figures of modern business, Stern and Whiteley don't back down from sharing some of the very worst parts of the man. Jobs was either ruthless or just plain mean, depending on your interpretation of his professional and personal philosophies, and "Jobs" doesn't hide that.
Kutcher's performance as the eponymous character vacillates wildly, with the actor at his most transcendent when he's not trying to put on a rigorously well-researched Steve Jobs impersonation and instead relaxing into a character cut for the big screen. Kutcher, a self-confessed fan of Jobs, clearly studied his subject, but his carefully constructed mannerisms, movements, and speech patterns are often more distracting than engaging. When Kutcher goes "full Jobs" (apparently the tech visionary was quite prone to screaming and crying), his work verges into parody territory. Kutcher should have taken a page from Josh Gad's supporting performance as Steve Wozniak, a surprisingly haunting and haunted turn that adds unexpected gravitas to every scene he occupies.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice Magazine, and an Associate Editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in New York City.