It is one of the most significant stories to be told to the current generation. I suppose that’s why there’s so much pressure to encapsulate every facet of the story in Joshua Michael Stern’s Jobs. And–perhaps in the spirit of Jobs’ gambling nature–the film was written by ingenue Matt Whiteley. The large focus of the film is on the time Steve Jobs spent developing and fine-tuning the concept of a personal computer, which would become known as the Apple II. As Apple Computer Inc. grew from a garage outfit to a full-blown corporation–thanks to a generous investment from Mike Markkula (played by Dermot Mulroney)–so, too, did Jobs’ immense ego. A combination of Jobs’ arrogance and shareholder lack of vision is, ultimately, what led to Jobs being ousted from the company in 1985.
But before Jobs delves into this debacle, it goes back to Jobs’ early rebellious years at Reed College. Already a lax school (as it should be for the price), Jobs still took it upon himself to drop out entirely while continuing to audit classes and sleep on people’s couches or floors in various dorm rooms. His enthusiasm for learning and innovating is apparent–even if it is evident from the start that he’s something of an asshole. In fact, it is a calligraphy course he learns about from another student (who he cheats on his girlfriend with for some afternoon delight) that inspired him to become so nuanced about typeface. Jobs quickly takes a turn for the worse when Steve, his girlfriend, Chris-Ann Brennan (Ahna O’Reilly), and his friend, Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas) take acid and lie in a field together. It is one of the more nonsensical scenes in the movie, but maybe it’s necessary for the allusion to the fact that Jobs was adopted.
After a trip to India with Daniel, Jobs becomes transfixed with a project that a childhood friend of his, Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), is working on. While working at Atari, Jobs had previously enlisted Wozniak’s help in developing a rough-hewn game. Impressed with his skill (though not impressed enough to not fuck him over financially), Jobs is even more interested with a prehistoric version of the personal computer that Wozniak has begun to develop. When Jobs encourages him to present the project at Stanford University’s Home Brew Computer Club, Wozniak reluctantly agrees. The reception is lukewarm, to say the least, save for one man who owns a computer parts store. Capitalizing on his interest, Jobs offers to make the first model of the personal computer and “let” him sell it in his store.
The first version turned out to be a bit on the bare bones side, leading Jobs and Wozniak to start working on the Apple II model with the team they had assembled, including Bill Fernandez (Victor Rasuk) and Daniel Kottke. Ultimately, these “extraneous” people would be cheated out of any stock options when the company went public. After the release of Apple II, the progress of the company stalled as Jobs became obsessed with creating the Apple Lisa–fueled by Jobs’ belief in the potential of graphical user interface. Board members, particularly Arthur Rock (J.K. Simmons), watched on in horror as millions of dollars were poured into the project. This ultimately led to Jobs being taken off the project, a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Seeing Jobs’ anguish, Mike Markkula put him on a new project, the Macintosh. While Apple was banking on the success of this new product, Bill Gates and IBM had apparently managed to rip off the look and content of the software. To make matters worse, recently appointed CEO John Scully (Matthew Modine), whom Jobs adored for his marketing genius at Pepsi, insisted on pricing the Macintosh at a much higher rate. All of this spelled disaster for Apple, which was solidified when the board voted Jobs out of the company. The thoroughness of Jobs is what makes it both admirable and somewhat impossible to watch. Whiteley’s script–expertly researched–does its best to compact decades of history into 122 minutes, but, in the end, a tighter focus needed to occur in order to make this film more viewable.
Overloaded story structure aside, Kutcher is fairly decent as Jobs–apart from the affected gait–and we are left with the cliche impression that Jobs was a tortured genius who couldn’t help coming across as a selfish sociopath. But hey, when you drive fast and scream in your car (a scene that’s presumably supposed to be Kutcher’s Oscar clip), it serves as therapy. The film doesn’t touch on Jobs’ death, taking us as far as 2001 for the introduction of the now behemoth-looking first iPod. And perhaps this is a stylized choice, symbolizing that Jobs will never really die because his legacy is so far-reaching and immense. Sadly, this biopic is not.