by Deepanjana Pal Aug 23, 2013 14:12 IST
Fun fact: one of the few foreign books that's given Chetan Bhagat a run for his money is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. In India — where Apple products are significantly more expensive than elsewhere and weren't easily available until recently — Isaacson's 600-paged Steve Jobs sold more than Bhagat's Revolution 2020. This just goes to show how charismatic a figure Jobs is internationally, thanks to Apple. People talk about Jobs having had an ego the size of Macbook Pro's memory and being a punishing perfectionist, but it's also widely acknowledged that he was the driving force behind the elegant minimalism that made Apple a phenomenon.
So imagine the disappointment of watching Jobs and realising a film about Steve Jobs doesn't really bother with aesthetics, logic or storytelling. The music is forgettable, the cinematography is unimaginative and there are no insights into what made Jobs one of the most influential men of our times. Beginning with the unveiling of the iPod, rewinding to the 1970s when Jobs was a drug-addled college dropout and waffling on till the 1990s, when he reclaimed Apple after being forced out of the company by the board, Jobs takes a fascinating life and turns it bland and uninspiring.
All the film seems to care about is Ashton Kutcher. Consequently, Jobs, directed by Joshua Michael Stern, is filled with tight close-ups that allow us to notice every detail of Kutcher's decidedly attractive face. It's almost enough to make you forget that the real Jobs wasn't such a smooth-skinned cutie, but a grizzled, ruffled, angular creature — both literally and metaphorically. When Kutcher took on the role, he was praised for daring to play the iconic entrepreneur, but Kutcher's audacity actually lies in his decision to equate himself with Jobs.
Kutcher doesn't get the make-up team to give him Jobs's eyebrows or his teeth. His body doesn't mirror the changes that Jobs's was going through. In interviews, Kutcher said he felt he could relate to Jobs because he also had a middle-class family background, dropped out of college and is invested in the tech industry. However, this is like comparing a portable CD player with an iPod — sure, they both have circular buttons and play music, but one was functional and the other changed the way we listen to music.
Kutcher's sense of identification with Jobs might explain the patchwork quality of the screenplay though, which lurches from episode to episode without really establishing either characters or ideas — perhaps scriptwriter Matt Whiteley only included those bits of Jobs's life that intersected in some way with Kutcher's. Since there is a cringe-worthy scene in which Jobs stands, arms raised, in the middle of a field, it's possible Whiteley is also a fan of Shah Rukh Khan.
Jobs puts together well-known bits and pieces about the man, like his phase of walking barefoot, visiting India, being a fruitarian and his tendency firing people for disagreeing with him. However, these details don't come together to create a portrait that offers any understanding into this legendary and complicated man. The film also ignores some of the most compelling aspects of the persona and personality. For instance, Jobs's complicated relationship with Bill Gates to crucial elements like how he ran his company are dealt with flippantly.
Inexplicably, Whiteley fast-forwards through many dramatic portions of Jobs's life, including the years when he set up Next, bought Pixar, got married and was reunited with the daughter he'd rejected earlier. Instead of telling us how he reconquered Apple, all Whiteley shows is Jobs being forced out of Apple one second and the next, he's violently pulling out carrots in a home garden before meeting Apple's CEO and agreeing to help out the flailing company.
Steve Wozniak, with whom Jobs had originally founded Apple, has complained bitterly that the film is a fan's vision of Jobs. It glorifies the few faults the film attributes to Jobs — like cheating Wozniak of money — and ignores the many faulty decisions he took at Apple during his first stint. Plus, everyone else who contributed to make Apple the legend that it is today, is dismissed by the film and Apple emerges as one man's idea and creation.
However, factual inaccuracy is not the only problem with Jobs. Had the film been entertaining and well-made, its dodgy relationship with facts might have been forgiven. Jobs, unfortunately, is a crashing bore. All we see Jobs do is lope about, make his lip quiver when he's being 'intense', fire and hire people whimsically, and give vague pep-talks while standing in front of white boards. What or how he actually contributed to Apple remains a mystery.
The flat supporting characters in Jobs exist only to show how Jobs was worshipped or underestimated. Only Josh Gad as Wozniak makes any impression and that too is fleeting. The rest simply form a line-up of male hairdos from the '70s.
Ultimately, Jobs comes across as an inept attempt at copying The Social Network. Whiteley has made Jobs a bespectacled version of Sorkin's Zuckerberg: his Jobs is egoistical, impresses investors, treats women badly, betrays his friends by being too coldly pragmatic and walks funny. Unfortunately, Whiteley is nowhere near as gifted a storyteller as Sorkin, who is, incidentally, writing a screenplay based on Isaacson's Steve Jobs. Apple-fans can breathe a sigh of relief: this Ashton-Kutcher vehicle is not the only biopic by which we'll remember Jobs.
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