updated 11:00 pm EDT, Fri August 16, 2013
Most find acting better than story, take issue with historical accuracy
The independently-made biopic of Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, entitled Jobs and starring Ashton Kutcher in the title role, has opened in cinemas around North America. Early reviews have largely given the film a thumbs down -- though somewhat surprisingly more for the story by first-time screenwriter Matt Whitely than for Kutcher, whom most critics thought was cast largely for his resemblance to Jobs over his mostly-lightweight acting abilities. Critics of the film have largely focused on the script's heavy emphasis on Apple rather than Jobs personally.
"A better title for this film might have been The History of Apple Computers," fumes the Associated Press review. Apple's other co-founder, Steve Wozniak, praised the two leads (Kutcher and Josh Gad, the latter of whom plays Wozniak as a sensitive and relatable foil to Jobs) but ended his brief review by saying he was "attentive and entertained, but not greatly enough to recommend the movie.""
The New York Times was harsher than most concerning Kutcher's performance, but still took more issue with the incomplete storyline and tendency to focus on Apple's history over Jobs' own personal development. The film completely omits, for example, Jobs' life after being fired from Apple and his reinvention and comeback as a tech guru as he became CEO of NeXT and the buyer and guiding force behind Pixar. It begins the film by showing Jobs' pre-Apple life and his initial denial of paternity of his daughter Lisa, but later shows a reconciled relationship with the now college-age young lady without a word of how that happened.
Currently the critics' rating on the movie-review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes ranks at about 24 percent, with most critics surprised by the acting of the two leads but disappointed by the story (and what one review called "milestone fatigue," a tendency of biopics to only show high- and low-lights of a character rather than a more nuanced slice of their lives). One reviewer said simply "the founder of Apple Computer and everything 'i' deserves better than this," while the site itself summarized the film as "an ambitious but skin-deep portrayal ... has the feel of an over-sentimentalized made-for-TV movie."
Interestingly, early audiences -- presumably made up of more regular movie-goers than hardcore Apple fans -- thought much higher of the film than critics, giving it a rating (thus far) of 52 percent. For many, the film may be their first look at the man who was in important ways responsible for the products they carry everywhere with them and which have changed life in the 21st century from that of the 20th. Kutcher's more studied and serious performance may also be impressing non-nerd audiences as being very different from the zanier characters he usually portrays, and Josh Gad has generally gotten strong notices for his portrayal of Wozniak, even if the man himself doesn't find the timeframes or characterizations accurate enough.
In short, the film may have a chance of doing better than critics expect -- as much of the material is new to mainstream audiences, the film features a soundtrack rich with beloved 60s and 70s music, and Kutcher turns in a decent performance that goes beyond just his physical resemblance. However, those deeply familiar with Jobs and more adept and involved in the technology are likely to find this film unsatisfying. The latter group will likely zero in on some of the more egregious examples of time compression and caricaturing of the minor players, historical inaccuracies and lack of insight into what made Jobs tick.