Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Worm in the Apple

It's easy to cheer for corporate drones who get in the way of cinema's Steve Jobs

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I like Apple products. But I hate the cult of Apple.

My conflicted feelings have headed into an excruciating new phase with the release of the new Steve Jobs biopic, Jobs.

Maybe you remember those old Apple commercials with the two fellows standing next to each other and addressing the audience. ("Hello, I'm a Mac." "And I'm a PC.") John Hodgman was the PC, an uptight, bumbling, weak-chinned fuddy-duddy in an ill-fitting beige sport jacket. Justin Long was the Mac, young, funny and effortlessly hip in his jeans and hoodie.

While PC pedantically preened about his spreadsheets and pie charts, Mac would casually mention his brilliance in the creative sector -- you know, "fun stuff like music, movies, podcasts."

Despite the ads' clear intent, I found myself totally on the side of the PC. It's not that I wanted to buy a PC. I didn't. I wanted to buy a Mac. I just felt a surging sympathy towards the poor despised PC guy.

Partly this was because John Hodgman is way funnier than Justin Long. But mostly it was because of the ads' tone, which pretended to be offhand and self-deprecating while actually being incredibly self-satisfied about its own coolness.

I myself am not cool, but I at least understand the rules of cool. And here's the first one: If you have to keep pointing out how cool you are, you are not that cool.

The movie Jobs is like those commercials, but about a hundred times worse. It's not just that it's a bad film, though it is. Clunky and obvious, Jobs feels like a TV movie of the week, possibly even an after-school special. And it stars Ashton Kutcher, who's like Justin Long's less talented brother.

What's really fatal is the movie's smugness, so insistent and irony-free. Steve Jobs's "flawed genius" is a matter of public record, so the script throws in a few blatant examples of jerky behaviour. (Jobs parks his Porsche in the Apple parking lot's handicapped spot -- because he can.) But in seemingly every other scene, Jobs comes off as a universe-changing visionary genius who is constantly being hindered and oppressed by the mediocrity of everyone around him.

After a few rounds of this, I started to feel a strange protective affection for all those uncool people who keep getting in Steve's way. The unimaginative, bean-counting member of the board who questions Steve's budgets and timelines? The dullard engineer who just doesn't "get" the importance of design? The bottom-lining corporate drones in brown suits who are brought in to appease Apple shareholders? I loved them all. At one point, I was actually feeling sorry for a former CEO of DuPont Chemicals and a onetime PepsiCo marketing executive. How did this happen?

Maybe it's because the film's repetitive depiction of Jobs as rebel, Jobs as renegade, Jobs as corporate troublemaker feels so deadening and doctrinaire. Steve keeps encouraging us to "Think Different." So I did. Reacting against the film's message, and to the painful, plodding way that message is delivered, I began instinctively rooting for everybody but Steve. I got behind the second-raters, the no-hopers, the clock-watchers, the ones who will never, ever "put a dent in the universe."

For me, the whole Jobs movie experience became like a Bizarro World inversion of that famous 1997 Mac ad, "Here's to the crazy ones."

Here's to the hidebound, I found myself thinking, to the timid and the safe. To the complacent and the conformist and the conventional. To the square pegs in the square holes. To the unquestioning defenders of the status quo.

In fact, in Jobs, the only mediocrities I can't sympathize with are the filmmakers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2013 D12

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