The first movie made about Steve Jobs after his death, JOBS starring Ashton Kutcher, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last night. The movie has been generating a lot of buzz for the past several months, and a teaser clip was aired earlier this week. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak quickly called the clip out for its historical inaccuracy.
Anything that closely examines Steve Jobs’s life is bound to be controversial, and this movie has had a storm of anticipation swirling about it for quite some time. Does Kutcher give Steve Jobs a portrayal that’s engaging, and more importantly, believable?
“an entertaining expose of Jobs with an indie feel”
The movie covers the life of Jobs from his early days at Reed College up to the first iPod announcement in 2001. Most reviews are surprisingly positive about Kutcher’s performance. There’s no denying that Kutcher physically looks like Jobs, but there moments throughout the movie when Kutcher loses the Jobs persona. Most of the film’s faults are in the script. Pacing and poor supporting character development seem to be the main issues.
Kutcher got so into the role that he started Jobs’s fruit-only diet leading up to filming. “I went to the hospital like two days before we started shooting the movie,” said Kutcher to USA Today. “My pancreas levels were completely out of whack.” That’s scary considering that Jobs himself died of pancreatic cancer. Kutcher told another reporter that playing Jobs “was honestly one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever tried to do in my life.”
Here’s what the reviews from Sundance are saying:
From a pure story perspective, Slashfilm thinks Jobs tries to cram too much into one movie:
Ashton Kutcher plays the title role and does a good job at making you forget there’s a big star under the beard and glasses. It’s the script by Matt Whiteley, however, where the cracks begin to show. Jobs is so hell-bent on cramming all these seminal moments into one film, it never builds much context around them. We never feel like they mean anything or understand the “why” about the big moments. The film loves to tell us things, but never quite explains any in a satisfactory way.
The Verge calls Ashton Kutcher’s performance a “leaking bottle of pure rage:”
The film doesn’t shy away from Jobs’s unflattering traits — including his resentment towards longtime girlfriend and his rejection of their daughter, Lisa. (The film later shows a brief scene where Jobs is cheerfully trying to wake Lisa up, one of the many quieter scenes that exposes the larger canon.) Jobs was notoriously prideful and arrogant, and that characterization is made abundantly clear.
The Hollywood Reporter noticed some big plot holes, like the complete omission of Xerox Parc:
By accentuating the sweet spot that combines the Apple origin story with the drama inherent in Jobs’ struggles to grow and maintain control of his company, Whiteley [writer] and Stern [director] get the best return on investment — but at the expense of some important details, including his initial introduction to Wozniak and any specifics about Woz’s personal history. As the two are developing the first Apple computers, the omission of discussion about the operating-system software needed to run the machines also is puzzling.
The Next Web calls Kutcher “quite capable” at portraying Jobs:
Kutcher’s Jobs has the hunched, rolling gait of the man, and the kinetic nature of his hands. His flat, piercing stare and clipped delivery works almost perfectly throughout. Even if you’ve spent an enormous amount of time listening to or watching Jobs, you’ll be impressed with his overall performance. There were a few moments where he dropped out of cadence in his speech and such, but the impression that I got on the whole is that he got it right.
Indiewire thinks the movie plays it too safe:
Stylishly realized despite its unsophisticated storyline, “jOBS” has been shot by Russell Carpenter with brightly lit images that accentuate the eponymous innovator’s constant motivation. That achievement is complemented by Kutcher’s committed performance, certainly his most impressive turn in years, which conveys the character’s focused, manipulative intentions in each calculated look. But Matt Whiteley’s by-the-numbers screenplay, which tracks Jobs from his slacker days as a college dropout to the launching of Apple computers in his parents garage and eventual transformation into billionaire CEO, can’t keep pace. Shifting through bullet points of moments from Jobs’ life, the story maintains the subtleties of a made-for-TV movie and relates an origin tale with a superficiality one could obtain through a cursory browsing of Jobs’ Wikipedia page.
CinemaBlend enjoyed Kutcher’s performance, but notes how the movie ultimately falls flat:
The Steve Jobs of this movie, who’s constantly berating his employees to come up with something better than the status quo, would have hated the pat sentiments and dull direction ofjOBS. Apple urged people to think different. jOBS does anything but.
CNET wishes that more time in the script was given to the supporting cast:
Kutcher speaks fully 40 percent of the lines in “jOBS.” Unfortunately, he has almost no one to play off of. Dermot Mulroney, as early Apple investor Mike Markkula, shakes his head at Jobs’ excesses without ever really challenging him. J.K. Simmons, as the Apple board chairman who oversees Jobs’ ouster, is a cartoon villain. Women in the film barely exist; an actress playing Chris-Ann Brennan has a single underwritten scene informing a young Jobs that she is carrying his baby; years later in the film, a small scene shows Jobs at home with his wife. Only Gad, as Wozniak, gets a scene standing up to the great man — as Woz quits Apple, he criticizes Jobs for losing his humanity amid a single-minded pursuit of making great products. It’s something even Jobs’ staunchest admirers have to wrestle with, and the film could have used more of that.
JOBS will be premiering in theaters nationwide on April 19th, which happens to be Apple’s 37th anniversary. Based on the reviews, it looks like an entertaining expose of Jobs with an indie feel, not an Oscar-winning work of art that will be the staple Steve Jobs movie for years to come.
Another Steve Jobs biopic is currently in the works, and it’s based on the official Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is penning the script for Sony.