Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Jobs (2013)

It may be about the journey and not the destination – but Jobs doesn’t quite succeed on either count

Jobs is a biopic that doesn’t quite know whether it’s about the journey or the destination – despite working in that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in its opening minutes. It was inevitable that the passing of Steve Jobs, who made Apple popular again with the hat trick of iPods, iMacs, and the iPhone, would inspire more than one biopic about the man and his company.

The film opens with Jobs (who really does look like Ashton Kutcher) introducing the iPod in his keynote address in 2001 and ends with Jobs taking back the CEO post at Apple Computer in 1997. Between the two bookends, we see the eponymous character bum around in college, make his first personal computers in his dad’s garage with Steve Wozniack and friends, set up Apple, piss off everyone, and get ousted.

If it sounds strange to you that the bookends in Jobs are entirely different and have nothing to do with each other, you’re not alone. This is a case of a filmwriter not knowing where he's headed, compounded with the narrative crime of beginning with a flash forward that isn’t either in media res or nearly at the end of the narrative, and has absolutely nothing to do with the closing scene.

The story of young Jobs from his college years to his ouster is serviceably told, though not imaginatively told. Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network, with its frank characterisation of Mark Zuckerberg as a modern-day robber baron, has set a very high bar for Silicon Valley biopics and it’s somewhat disappointing to see Jobs go on autopilot mode for most of its runtime. In addition, the film’s decision to skip the entirety of Jobs’s career in between 1985 and 1997 is misguided. For a film that begins with the Emerson quote, the script is unconcerned with the journeys Jobs had taken in that ‘missing decade’. The overall effect is watching a badly paced film with an overlong Act 1 (leading to the hero’s fall from heaven), whereupon the projectionist lost the reel containing Act 2 where the hero learns some life lessons (like how not to be such an asshole), and ends with a shortened Act 3.

There is some attempt to invoke the zeitgeist of the era through heavy-handed pairing of Bob Dylan tracks with the film’s Eureka moments. I’m afraid this isn’t quite the same as giving the audience a taste of the wild energy in late 1960s Palo Alto, where Steve Jobs was one in a loose-knit community of hobbyists, engineers, venture capitalists, and designers all working together, competing, or stealing each others’ ideas to develop affordable personal computers that could be produced, marketed, and sold to the average home user. For that, you’d probably need an Ang Lee and his treatment of Taking Woodstock.

At times, Jobs veers into superficial biopic territory where solitary genius and madness are celebrated, and makes Pirates of the Silicon Valley look like a more comprehensive and honest telling of the tech boom and the geniuses of Silicon Valley.

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