To the many devotees of Apple, the tech company is a religion, with Renaissance employee Steve Jobs as its figurehead. The inventor of the Apple II remained an important part of the conglomerate up to his passing in 2011, and its clear from the new biopic jOBS that his legacy will continue to be a driving force and an inspiration for years to come. Starring Ashton Kutcher as the ambitious entrepreneur, jOBS memorializes the tech titan by chronicling his career trajectory beat for beat. Reading through Apple or Jobs' Wikipedia page may provide the same experience as watching jOBS (if not better — it has links!), but Kutcher and Swing Vote director Joshua Michael Stern whip up a flashy adaptation as slick and satisfying as Apple's perfectly-designed products. Stern followed Jobs' mantra: make it simple enough for the mainstream.
The film sets the tone from minute one, introducing Kutcher's Jobs at the 2001 staff meeting where the iPod was first introduced. Thunderous applause erupts, swelling music making the praise even louder. There's no question: Jobs is up there with the guy who invented the wheel.
Flashback to 1974, Jobs attending Reed College and having little to no interest in his work. Through self-discovery (i.e. a trip to India, a few hours spent on LSD in the middle of a wheat field, etc.), Jobs eventually finds his calling: technological design. Teaming with his buddy Steve Wozniack (1600 Penn's Josh Gad), Jobs sets out to build a personal computer that will change the world. With such a prolific career to cram into two hours, jOBS sticks to the exposition and lets Kutcher's wild-eyed interpretation of Jobs inject it with emotion. This is a tell-don't-show — but thankfully, what it's telling is captivating. As depicted in the film, Jobs' rise to fame was nothing short of the Beatles invading America. He puts together a band of scrappy programmers, finds investors, sticks it to the man in the name of creatively, and watches the resistance moves in. jOBS has four separate "assemble the team" montages, but it's gratifying in the hands of the energized Kutcher and Gad's sensitive, passionate Wozniack.
With little time to slow down and wallow in the situations it presents, jOBS opts to go big in every department. While the script puts Steve Jobs on the highest of pedestal, it wisely paints him as an aggressive, cold individual. To capture that side of the man, Kutcher is forced to do a lot of screaming. Motivational speeches turn into shamings, brainstorms into firings, board meetings into cage matches — if a scene has room for Jobs' wrath, it usually finds a way to include it. The pendulum swings the other way too, making Jobs' every little accomplishment into a milestone worthy of history books. Kutcher takes advantage of those moments, sparring with the likes of Dermot Mulroney, J.K. Simmons, and Matthew Modine in dialogues worthy of community theater (You're good. You're damn good!). jOBS doesn't quite capture bittersweet accomplishments with the style, diligence, and ferocity of a movie like The Social Network, but its rapid pace and over-the-top nature make it fun to watch.
Stern's direction serves the film by staying out of the way. The point-and-shoot approach gives way to the actors and snazzy production design. Rarely does it fly off the rails — only once, during a scene where Jobs tells his pregnant girlfriend to stay out of his life and breaks down in tears, does Stern try too hard. Less successful is the soundtrack, sounding like the aural version of a Matrix code assembled from random film scores. Road to Perdition, the oeuvre of Philip Glass, every sports movie ever... even Prometheus sounds like an inspiration for the triumphant orchestral music. The screaming vocals of Kutcher are much more effective than the emotional-battering music, especially when they're being utilized to scream at Bill Gates (take that, Pirates of Silicon Valley!).
Tech-savvy folks may rip jOBS to shreds when it arrives in theaters on April 19 — really, could it really fit in every detail of the Apple mastermind's life? — but for laypersons looking for insight into the history of their iDevices, it's a serviceable biography. Untouched is the final months of Jobs' life or the domination of the tech scene in the early 2000s. There isn't time for that — as jOBS proves, there's way too much between 1974 and the mid-'90s to get there. And luckily, it's fascinating stuff.
[Photo Credit: Open Road]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches