When I first saw the trailer for this movie, my immediate reaction was “Ashton Kutcher? Seriously?”
Having seen the movie now, I don’t think Kutcher was a bad choice to play Jobs. Physically he bears a strong resemblance to Jobs and he does a fair job with makeup pulling off the illusion of being Jobs. Except for one thing I’ll mention here and try to overlook for the rest of this review. Starting about 1/3 into the movie, Kutcher adopts a very awkward gait while walking. He sort of hunches his shoulders over, leans forward and splays his legs out as he walks. The result is decidedly uncomfortable looking, and on several occasions it feels like Kutcher is focused more on achieving this strange gait than on the scene around him.
I was mostly curious about this movie because of my close association with Apple back in the 80s. I was, back then, a certified Macintosh developer and attended multiple Apple Developer conferences and other Apple events including some of the events where Steve Jobs was the keynote speaker. I had even met some of the people in the movie, albeit very briefly and only in the context of being part of a group attending a workshop or mingling during meals, between sessions or during some of the “get to know Apple” activities.
People who knew me at that time will remember that I did not have a high opinion of Steve Jobs, and my opinion of him has not really changed that much since then, although I give him more credit for his marketing savvy and ability to spot a trend-setting market opportunity than I did then. Back then I more or less considered Steve Wozniak to be the real genius behind the creation and success of Apple Computer, and meeting Woz was much higher on my “want to do” list than meeting Jobs. Although I never actually met either of them in spite of being in several sessions where one or the other (or both) spoke.
My main curiosity in watching the movie was how well the movie would match my own memories of the time, particularly around the creation and production of the Lisa and the Macintosh computers.
As it turns out the movie was much more of a character portrait than any sort of historically meaningful life story. What historically relevant information there was, and there was very little, was mostly focused on the iconic imagery of Jobs, Woz and Apple. The humble beginnings in Jobs parent’s garage, the production of the first kit computer (now known as the Apple I), the creation of the Apple II, etc. There was virtually no meaningful technological history. For example, there was no mention of Jobs visiting Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Corporation (which is where most of the technology that made the Mac so visionary had been produced) or any real exploration whatsoever of what made the Apple II any better than the dozens of competing computers set up in booths beside Apple’s introduction of the Apple II.
Anyway, the movie was all about what sort of person Jobs was, and how he grew, or didn’t grow. I suppose the point was to try to show how visionaries are different than normal people. But what emerged was not so much a comparison of visionaries vs normal folks as a comparison of assholes vs geeks vs corporate greedheads. Unfortunately the characters other than Jobs mostly fit some one-dimensional caricature, including, amazingly, major figures like Steve Wozniak who came across as a fairly typical overweight, socially awkward, business ignorant engineer. I’ve never met Woz personally, but I’ve been present in the room several times when he was presenting and I’ve seen tons of interviews with him and that is a seriously unfair representation of a pretty complex and interesting individual.
There is a certain amount of irony in a movie that portrays the single greatest failing of Steve Jobs to have been his singular focus on his own needs, desires and goals to the detriment of everyone around him, and then treats every other character in the movie as a cardboard, meaningless drone who exists for no other purpose than to be a cog in the Steve Jobs machine. In fact the depiction of the other characters is so limited that there’s really no point in critiquing them. Sure I could snark about how awful the members of the Board of Directors were portrayed, particularly the Farmers Insurance guy playing the “bad guy” board member with the subtlety of a careening Mack truck, but that’s the sort of depiction that was needed to allow the movie to be all about Steve Jobs.
Which begs the question of how does the Steve Jobs of the movie actually come out? Well, the Cosmic Wife’s reaction was “what a total jerk!” Which is pretty accurate as far as my understanding of Steve Jobs is. The movie is sometimes surprisingly unsympathetic to Jobs, especially in any scene where Jobs has to interact with anyone outside of creating a product for Apple. You end up wondering if Steve actually remembers his wife’s name.
Since the movie offered no real insight into what made Jobs successful, other than that he was a driven jerk, and it offered no real context for how Apple became the technology juggernaut it was in the early 80s and has become again with the iPhone and iPod, I really can’t recommend the movie as a way to spend a few hours, especially at movie theater prices. I’d give it 1.5 misaligned circuit boards out of 5 and say wait until it’s on the Lifetime channel on a rainy Sunday afternoon if you want to see it.