After viewing The Social Network a few years ago, I felt inspired by Mark Zuckerburg’s story and was encouraged to follow my own dreams. I thought the story of Steve Jobs might similarly inspire me, but after viewing Jobs, I felt no such inspiration. Perhaps the filmmakers intended to portray Steve Jobs as a complex, charismatic innovator – and to a certain extent, they succeeded. However, it seems to me that he could also be an asshole, and that was one of the salient aspects of his personality that stuck with me.
The movie begins in 1974 at Reed College, where Steve (Ashton Kutcher, New Year’s Eve) is a former student. He bums around campus, occasionally sitting in on classes despite being a dropout. He has close friends and a girlfriend, but his social interaction with others is strange, and his emotional maturity seems stunted. Very early on he seems unaware of others’ feelings, but displays a keen curiosity that draws others to him. In some ways he both repels and attracts other human beings, which is an odd feat.
Eventually Steve begins working for Atari. The superior quality of his work makes him an asset to his supervisor, and he challenges Steve to improve one of their popular arcade games. Steve enlists his friend, Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad, Love & Other Drugs) to help him with the project. Steve was promised $5,000 for the successful completion of the task and told his buddy that he’d give him half of the money. Only Steve told his friend that he’d only been promised $700 for the work; thus giving his friend a paltry $350 for providing invaluable assistance. This may seem like an insignificant act, but I found it abhorrent and it both underscored and foreshadowed Steve’s social ineptitude.
While Wozniak assisted with the Atari project, Steve observed a rudimentary keyboard at his house one day. Intrigued, he wanted to know more about this device that would ultimately serve as the prototype for the modern personal computer. At the time it was only a keyboard that needed to be connected to a monitor, but eventually a local retailer encouraged Steve to provide both the keyboard and monitor for sale as one product. I credit Jobs with brilliant innovation, but he certainly has others to thank for inspiring groundwork that was laid years ago.
The movie chronicles Apple Computer from its inception, through Steve’s monumentally successful tenure during the early 80s, and through his ousting by the company’s board of directors in 1985. Though Apple was immensely popular and successful in the early 80s, Steve never seemed motivated by profit, but by creativity. His work ethic was relentless, and he demanded excellence. However, his loyalty was virtually nonexistent, and his results-driven approach to business appeared downright callous at times. This is a man who screwed his friends and denied his child’s existence for the first two years of her life while her mother lived on welfare.
Perhaps these asshole tendencies are an attendant personality trait of genius; I’m not sure. I just found that the movie didn’t portray Jobs as this likable, interesting man that he actually may have been. Ashton Kutcher’s performance was uneven and inconsistent. One minute he perfectly embodied Jobs, and the next minute he seemed to be imitating him, as exemplified by Jobs’ trademark shuffling gait. I think Kutcher approached the role with the requisite seriousness that a biopic requires, but I can’t quite call his performance a success. If anything, the movie may encourage people to learn more about this enigmatic visionary. Unfortunately, I was left wanting more. Grade: B-