You might think it’s too soon for a movie about Steve Jobs. After all, the Apple co-founder walked off the world stage just 676 days before Friday’s premiere of Jobs, the movie about him that stars Ashton Kutcher.
I had that same uneasy feeling sitting through the interminable 122-minute Jobs, a PG-13 movie that frequently stalls like a spinning beach ball.
Somewhere between hagiography and infomercial, there’s no fresh insight to be gained from the familiar scenes of Jobs experimenting with drugs and calligraphy or staging a comeback at Apple.
Those fleeting moments when Kutcher lurches down the hall with that irregular gait Jobs had or the few times he nails the accent can’t evoke a man who can still be seen — living, breathing, walking across the stage at Moscone Center — 24 hours a day on YouTube.
Though I’m not Nate Silver in a skirt, I was curious to see whether there was any link between time elapsed since the death of a biopic’s subject and the quality (or rating) of the film. (As a TV entertainment reporter, I once did a story on the relationship between whether Julia Roberts wore curls and the success of her films. Result: The curls have it.)
So I looked at 800 of the 2,900 or so most popular biography feature films at the Internet Movie Database. After weeding out the ones released when the subject was still alive as well as those with historical subjects stretching back more than 1,500 years, I came up with a sample of 330 movies. (The Excel file is available in Google Docs, in case you want to play around with it.)
It turns out there’s no correlation (0.008089967) between years elapsed since the death of the biopic’s subject and the movie’s ratings, which you can see from the blobby cluster above.
There were some great movies made the same year the person died (Ray and The Story of G.I. Joe) as well as some very mediocre ones (Anna Nicole, for instance, or The Babe Ruth Story). The lack of connection also seems to hold true if you look at subjects with multiple movies made — Che Guevara, Queen Elizabeth, Abraham Lincoln.
Which brings me to the conclusion that although it’s just 1 year, 10 months, 6 days since his death, it’s not too soon for a movie about the iconic Apple co-founder.
It’s just too soon for such a bad movie.
Jobs was only 56 when pancreatic cancer stopped him from delighting people around the world with “just one more thing.” To make his premature exit even more bewildering, he left us with an authorized biography that, unlike the flawless products Apple sells from Helsinki to Harare, showed just how impossible his personality was to fit into one of those sleek white boxes.
For a brain refresh before the Jobs screening, I watched Pirates of Silicon Valley. It’s a 1999 made-for-TV kitschfest — bad hair extensions, cheesy music, hammy acting — but it was made when Jobs was still alive. Both he and Steve Wozniak chuckled along with it, believing there were many years of battles and triumphs to come. Woz earnestly answered trivia questions about it on his blog and Jobs even played along, letting Noah Wyle, the actor who played him in Pirates, take the stage during Macworld.
Now, though, anyone who admired, despised or had even a passing interest in the man called the Edison of our times expects something more from a biopic about Jobs.
It’s not enough for Kutcher to look like him and do a passable impersonation. It takes insight and story crafting; you’re going to have to tell us something we don’t already know or find a way to make sense out of a complicated, brief life.
If you’re at all like the readers of Rotten Tomatoes (nearly 90 percent say they will darken movie theaters to see it), you will go see Jobs, hoping to see the late Apple leader again. There may be fleeting moments when you catch a glimpse of him — in the backyard with Laurene and the kids, presenting the iPod at Apple headquarters — but it will probably leave you with more uneasy nostalgia than anything else.