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sundance 2013

jOBS Premieres at Sundance: Would It Please Steve Wozniak?

_DSC0634.NEF Josh Gad and Ashton Kutcher as Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in jOBS

Yesterday, having seen a minute-long clip of jOBS, the Sundance closing night movie about the founding of Apple, actual Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak let loose a rant about the movie’s inaccuracies. His complaints: that the clothes worn by Josh Gad, who plays him, were too “professional”; that it was he, not Steve Jobs, who had “ideas of computers affecting society”; and that “personalities are very wrong although mine is closer.” So last night at the jOBS premiere, we asked Gad for a response. “You know what? To each their own, everybody’s got an opinion and I’m playing him so he has every right to be happy, disappointed,” Gad told us. “I think it’s very hard to judge something from twenty seconds of footage.” Plus, Gad pointed out, Wozniak is employed as a consultant by the other Steve Jobs biopic, the one Aaron Sorkin is developing based on the Walter Isaacson biography — the implication being that Wozniak has an incentive to trash the Jobs movie he’s not being paid by. “So to me it’s, we invited him to come and set the record straight and he chose not to. There’s not much I can do for that. But I really think that if he sees the film in its entirety, he’ll see it’s a tribute to him.” (Wozniak did allow in his Gizmodo comments that his take was just based on “just one clip” and that “the movie should be very popular and I hope it's entertaining. It may be very correct, as well ... But you'll see the direction they are slanting the movie in, just by the dialog style of this script.”)

jOBS had its premiere Friday night. Now that we’ve seen it in its entirety, does the Woz have a right to be upset? Yes and no. Gad is right; the movie makes Wozniak look great. He’s the beating human heart of Apple, the guy who kept trying to remind Jobs (who’s so cut off from emotion he shuns his first serious girlfriend and abandons his unborn child, Lisa) why they’d gotten into the business in the first place: to make things they wanted to make and be their own bosses and have fun. Gad’s mull-fro may be the worst curly long hair in cinematic history, which is slightly inaccurate as Wozniak appears to have had terrible-in-retrospect long straight hair.

Kutcher isn’t “totally wrong” for Jobs, as Wozniak has asserted. He certainly looks more the part than expected. The movie opens on the Apple town hall staff meeting in 2001 where a white-haired, spectacled, black-turtleneck-wearing Jobs announced the iPod and got a standing ovation. (It seems that every time the man talks in this movie, he gets a standing ovation.) Kutcher looks like Kutcher aged by makeup, but at least the actor bares an uncanny resemblance to Jobs — which the press notes tell us again and again. From there, the movie goes back to 1972, when Jobs was the coolest and best-looking of all his computer-geek friends at Reed College, and here’s where Kutcher seems much more able to fit the part. We follow Jobs as he drops out of Reed, does LSD, cheats on his girlfriend, and travels through India with his friend Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas), whom Jobs made one of Apple’s first employees when they were operating out of Jobs’s garage in 1976 and then cut him out of stock shares when the company went public. (And the Winklevii would cry, “Zuckerberg stole that idea, too!”) There’s a bunch of high-octane sales pitches and building of computer boards set to charging rock music. Jobs alternates between suddenly firing people and making passionate speeches about not compromising quality. We watch as he goes down a wormhole of ego and perfectionism and loses everyone he loves as well as the company he founded, then resurrects into the guy with the iPod and the standing ovation. After the screening, our condo-mates debated a couple of issues among ourselves. Would the movie have been less like The Social Network, but not as good, if told from Wozniak’s perspective? Or if it had centered around the complex relationship between Jobs and Apple’s first angel investor, Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), who mentored Jobs but also abandoned him several times for his own self-interest? Said another critical viewer, “Why was every employee Caucasian? There weren’t enough Asian people to accurately represent Apple.”

Whether Kutcher achieves morphing into Jobs is highly debatable (Kutcher’s Jobs has an improbably Midwestern accent for a guy born in San Francisco), but it’s certainly not for lack of trying. The press notes talk about how much research he did on Jobs (and cite his bona fides of owning Apple stock for ten years); then there was the fact that he switched to a fruitarian diet, to the point where he ended up being hospitalized. “I was doubled over in pain and my pancreas levels were completely out of whack,” he said during the audience Q&A. Later, at the premiere party at Nur Khan’s pop-up space in Park City, we asked for more details. Kutcher could only shake his head with the memory. “That was really painful,” he said. So why’d he do it? “I wanted to know who he was.”

While people close to Jobs may criticize Kutcher and the movie, the actor realizes that there are millions of other Apple-product fanatics who never met Jobs but who will still scrutinize the movie and take it very personally. “This was honestly, like, one of the most terrifying things I’d ever tried to do in my life,” Kutcher said at the post-screening Q&A. “Because I admire this man so much and what he’s done and I admire the way he built things, and I admire the fact that you’re filming this with an iPad right now. And this guy created a tool that we use everyday in our lives, and he believed in it when nobody else did. So for me that was terrifying. Secondly, he’s fresh in our mind. People a year ago were talking with this man and watching him present things and do things and it’s not like, you know, I’ve never seen Abraham Lincoln walk into a room, but I’ve seen Steve Jobs walk into a room. So it was kind of like throwing myself into this gauntlet of, I know, massive amounts of criticism. Because somebody’s going to go, ‘Well, it wasn’t exactly like that.’ So that was really scary.” Your move, Sorkin.

Photo: Glen Wilson/Open Road Films