This past Tuesday I hit a local AMC to check out the Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher as the late Apple co-founder. Needless to say, as an avid fan and user of Apple products – not to mention one who’s been quoted naming the house as the Playboy amongst its competitors – I was excited to see how director Joshua Michael Stern and scriptwriter Matt Whiteley would chronicle the casual story of a vision that would forever change the world.
Just to get things straight, I’m not a movie critic. I’ve never pretentiously toted the title of a movie buff either. I simply believe that a discerning eye is something intrinsic to the movie going experience, and along with the various Sour Patch assortments and Arizona’s I’ve managed to sneak into theaters across California, I always make it a point to bring one with me. So despite a fecal score from Rotten Tomatoes and the many bad raps I’d already received from my friends regarding the film, I still had to foster my own opinion.
But from its marketing engine to the way we all talked about it in the months leading up to a release, there was always an inbred, conceptual issue with the film that now more visibly premises so many of the material ones. I even used the language myself: “Starring Ashton Kutcher as (Steve Jobs).” In value, it’s less of a way of speaking than it is a peering into a priority of aims. It became clear after seeing the movie that Jobs was an imaginative work of the wrong sort, serving not only as a cinematic failure, but directly opposing Apple’s directional philosophy as well.
It’s no secret that Kutcher – much like the more academically decorated and achieved James Franco – is one of Hollywood’s boys next door. Girls fancy him, but he’s not heading their conversations alongside Ryan Gosling. His on-campus charm mingles in a space between curiosity and folly. Put simply, Kutcher is the type of guy who would play the stoner, dimwit role in a movie like Dude, Where’s My Car? and then go on to do something more “thinky” like The Butterfly Effect. Call him unconventional, young and alive, or anything of the sort, but then notice how much easier it becomes to call him Job-esque, even just for a second.
It’s widely known that like Jobs, Kutcher is a college dropout. Also considered a big investor in startup businesses and serving as a common face for the new wave in general, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Kutcher having a poster of someone like Steve Jobs hanging up in a past home.
Perhaps at some point these parallels also made it feasible to imagine the former “That 70’s Show” star portraying the Apple co-founder on the big screen, especially after his widely lauded speech at this year’s Teen Choice Awards. While accepting his award, it seemed that Kutcher wore the same gusto and freethinking flexibility that one would imagine a young Steve Jobs employed with his vision of Apple. However, it was this very image of Kutcher standing up at the podium and handing out verbal pamphlets of success which provided the framework for a surprisingly tasteless and uninspiring film.
First of all, Kutcher’s method-acting was unbearable. It’s one thing to act “like” someone in a game of Charades, but the symbolic value of a biopic film – especially one that traces the life of arguably the most regarded pioneer of the century – requires the lead actor to become the individual, and Kutcher simply missed the boat. He wanted to hunch himself and walk like Jobs, but it didn’t seem as though the “Punk’d” creator was willing to give himself up enough to carry out the singular mission of being Jobs as opposed to some hybridized version that included his own life objective of “thinking different”. Ashton Kutcher, under the direction of Stern and Whitely, rendered a film that uses a revolutionary name and brand only as an arena for imagining how Kutcher himself may have done things given his narrowly similar ambitions.
Apple’s success is largely due to a prolific ability to elucidate the relationship between self and technology, but Jobs as a product robs viewers of that rapport. The film begins with a fairly believable reinterpretation of Jobs’ unveiling of the first iPod in 2001, waffles back into his drug experimentation in the ‘70s, and then traces his ups and downs with the Apple brand through the ‘80s and‘90s. In theory, it seems Stern could have done the complicated life of Jobs justice given this outline and a 128 minute window, but no. Instead the scenes drive forward with the same drunken care and lack of attention to detail that first inspired the Apple drawing board. The in-character Kutcher is annoyingly preachy, without a single clip to give viewers insight into how the forward-thinking Jobs became that way. Lines such as, “I just can’t work for other people,” were as cheesy and overbearing as they were ungrounded due to underdeveloped role-play by Kutcher throughout.
However, I still wouldn’t put sole blame on Kutcher for this flop. The first finger has to be pointed at Whiteley for developing a script that forgot to deal with the why. He erred in thinking that a story so magical in its place in history would simply tell itself. He held a skeleton up to the big screen and gave viewers barely anything to look at, digest, and be moved by. For as much as the script estranged Steve Jobs’ character, much of the same can be said about the supporting cast. The surrounding characters seemed to have little function outside inciting opportunities for Jobs to be either revered or undervalued. But granted that there is no dialogue or interaction that could ever explain the inner-workings that constituted Jobs’ intriguing brilliance and personality, all we’re left with as viewers is Ashton Kutcher, his bare feet, and an erratic decision to invent the computer as we know it: roll credits.
It’s interesting having watched this movie and thinking about how unfairly we as inspired people take our heroes and belittle them down to ideas, doing away with the things that make them human. This movie was a personal dream about Jobs, consequentially alienating the real Jobs from the start. So call me crazy; call me a misfit; call me a rebel even, but I cannot stomach a film that picks up such a celebratory life and story only to plant it in such a barren and colorless place.