CCNMA: No More Mr. Nice Guy – JOBS
BackBy Chip Hartweir — Sept. 4, 2013
Certification Magazine — Sept. 4, 2013
Are your weekend entertainment plans certified? CCNMA is a weekly feature that explores the movie industry’s love-hate relationship with computing technology.
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Steve Jobs: entrepreneurial icon, co-founder of Apple, iMarketing genius, revolutionary thinker, benevolent patron of the tech-no-savvy masses. So was he really, actually, you know, just a dissociative crank twisted by a tortured preoccupation with his own genius? Or was he an asocial windbag puffed up by other people’s brilliant ideas, who ruthlessly took credit for everything he touched and treated mere mortals with disdain befitting a wad of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe?
Asked and answered, thanks to the punitive new biofilm JOBS, which doesn’t so much take a dim view of St. Steven as run him over with a Mack truck, then throw it in reverse and back up over the mangled remains. OK, maybe I’m overstating things a little. JOBS has all of the usual soft golden light and meticulous period costuming and hairstyling typically reserved for Important Films about People Who Mattered. And the first scene in the movie is a reverential invocation of the Steve Jobs most people remember: Bearded and balding, gray-haired and grandfatherly, a black-mock-turtle-and-501-jeans-wearing Billionaire for the Common Man.
The devil, as they say, is in the details. After skipping back to begin its chronicle during the Man-Myth-Legend’s days as a barefoot dropout at Portland’s Reed College, the film shows young Stevie Wonder (star Ashton Kutcher) take an interest in calligraphy (a sidenote that would later resurface in his preoccupation with typefaces) after stumbling across a doe-eyed brunette (Amanda Crew) practicing her penmanship under a tree. Cut to Slick Steve-O and the coed calligrapher sitting up in bed together, whereupon she offers him LSD, and he casually blows up the budding relationship by accepting some both for himself and for “my girlfriend.” Nice guy.
Turns out it’s not any better to be Steve Jobs’ sweetheart than his one-afternoon stand. Jobs dutifully shares his ill-gotten sunshine with pal Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas) and lady love Chrisann Brennan (Ahna O’Reilly), but that doesn’t mean she can expect a free ride forever. Chrisann’s only other significant appearance in the film comes just as Apple Computer is getting off the ground (and out of Jobs’ parents' garage), when she shows up to break the news of impending fatherhood to her increasingly distracted partner. Jobs blows up like Mount Vesuvius, denying responsibility and accusing Chrisann of sleeping around, before severing all ties with the tact and sensitivity of a farmhand lopping off the head of a chicken. (Later on, an attorney pleads with him to not abandon his daughter so casually, to which Jobs essentially responds that, “Bah. Humbug!”) Again: Nice guy.
(The filmmakers do include as a sort of footnote that Jobs eventually quasi-reconciled with Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Interestingly, though writer Matt Whiteley and director Josh Stern take just about every other opportunity of playing up the gold-plated jerkbag aspect of their subject’s personality, no mention is made of the fact that Jobs went so far in his initial denial of Lisa as to swear in court that he was sterile, infertile and incapable of fathering a child.)
It’s also not any better to be Steve Jobs’ friend than his fly-by-day dalliance, his unattached inamorata, or his blood offspring. Despite being Jobs’ bosom buddy since college and a faithful employee at Apple, Kottke is eventually tossed aside like an old pair of shoes. Pioneering inventor and engineer Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), whose beautiful mind is only the foundation of Jobs’ entire empire, is gradually driven away by his old sort-of-pal’s autocratic managerial style.
Speaking of which, based on the representation of Jobs in JOBS, even autocrats might take offense at being compared to such a tyrannical ogre. One scene that seems meant to encapsulate Jobs’ general belligerence, instransigence and warm repartee with his Apple underlings, has the Master bellowing at a mildly defiant engineer, “I already fired you! Why are you still here?!”
Even all of that is not enough for Whiteley and Stern, who tick off a host of other sins both wee (Jobs’ casual insistence on parking in a clearly marked handicapped spot at Apple’s corporate campus) and not-so-wee. When, upon his triumphant return to Apple in the mid-1990s — did we mention that everyone hated him so much that the Big J got Julius Caesar-ed by his own board of directors in 1985? — Jobs reclaims CEO power, he gleefully jettisons Apple’s original angel investor, Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), from the company’s board. The zotzing of Markkula, a longtime Jobs loyalist and, apparently, the only person at Apple still willing to stand by his man circa 1985, is spun here as a petty and petulant revenge firing.
Which it was? I suppose it depends on who you ask. If you ask JOBS, which benefits greatly from Kutcher’s energetic (and neatly imitative) performance, Steve Jobs was a visionary, innovator, etc., but mostly a gigantic asset. Er, hat.
(SEMI-)FAMOUS FACES: Though producers doubtless blew a large chunk of the casting budget on star Ashton Kutcher, JOBS has a Hall of Fame-level roster of brief appearances by actors who resonate on the level of “It’s that guy (or gal)! From that one movie!” In addition to Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, and Dermot Mulroney — all mentioned above — there’s fringe Brat Packer Matthew Modine (as onetime Apple CEO John Sculley); frequently crusty J.K. Simmons (as cranky investor Arthur Rock); erstwhile ER star Ron Eldard (as electrical engineer Rod Holt); In Plain Sight co-star Lesley Ann Warren (as Jobs’ mother, Clara); former CHiPs star Robert Pine (as board member Ed Woolard); creepy LOST kidnapper William Mapother (as Jobs’ calligraphy professor); and two-time Oscar nominee James Woods (as a remonstrative Reed College dean).
WHITHER WOODY AND BUZZ: You can’t cover every aspect of someone’s life in just two hours. It’s at least a little odd, however, that JOBS — a movie — makes no mention of Steve Jobs’ lasting imprint on the movie industry. A year after leaving Apple, Jobs purchased The Graphics Group from Lucasfilm and relaunched it as a little animation company named Pixar.
A PASSAGE TO INDIA: Most people who have a passing familiarity with Steve Jobs know that he made a supposedly transformative pilgrimage to India with Kottke in 1974. JOBS dutifully depicts this interlude, though without attaching much significance to it. It’s like the classic moment in State and Main when Alec Baldwin crawls out of the flipped station wagon with Julia Stiles: “So that happened.” Indeed.
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CHIP HARTWEIR is a Certified Cinemaniac who likes movies, computers and especially movies about computers. He has won numerous awards for writing about film and uses a Samsung Galaxy instead of an iPod. E-mail him at chiphartweir (at) gmail (dot) com.