Ashton Kutcher, producer and star of MTV’s celebrity prankster series Punk’d, played a prank on Steve Wozniak in the film Jobs, where he stars in the title role. The prank symbolically places Woz in a female role and gives primary engineering credit to early Apple employee Rod Holt. Kutcher’s motive may have been Wozniak’s agreement to help Aaron Sorkin with another Jobs biopic and his refusal to work with Kutcher and director Joshua Michael Stern on this one. With Woz as the feminine lead, Kutcher and Stern hide Apple’s female innovators and trivialize the women in Jobs’ life using brogramming techniques that discourage women from entering the technology field.
Wozniak, skinny as a young man, may be as well known for his own pranks as for inventing the personal computer, but that’s not mentioned in this film. Instead the overweight Josh Gad portrays him as lonely and impotent, pining for Jobs and powerless compared to Holt’s manly engineering feats. When Gad lost weight after filming, he and Kutcher, both heterosexual, celebrated with a gender-bending embrace to promote the movie.
We first meet Woz when he happily gives up his Friday night to help guy friend Jobs. Later, a tearful Woz tells Jobs he’s leaving Apple, serenaded by Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather,” a break-up song with a man singing the female and male parts. For this role, Gad used his high acting voice. His normal voice is lower. In his earlier film The Rocker, Gad’s screen mother bailed the teenage keyboardist out of jail, declaring “Tour’s over.” He then ad libs stage directions to himself, “You can’t cancel the tour. Lower my voice. You can’t cancel the tour.”
In addition to feminizing Woz, Kutcher and Stern indulge in brogramming, a bigoted male-bonding behavior intended to discourage female participation in technology. That direction is made clear in the first scene of the narrative, when a college dean (James Woods) stops his conversation with five female students to chase drop-out Jobs across campus.
The film then eliminates women from the history of Silicon Valley. Original Macintosh team member Joanna Hoffman (Abigail McConnell uncredited) is played mostly with her back to the camera. Hoffman twice won a company award for speaking her mind to Jobs. Debi Coleman, another winner of that award and head of Apple manufacturing, was an early recruit to the Mac team. But she’s not in the Macintosh recruiting montage. These women spoke the truth to Jobs. Instead of their courage, we see Jony Ive (Giles Matthey) playing it safe with a comment about color when Jobs asks him for brutal honesty.
Apple was born when Steve Wozniak attached a TV to a computer board and set us on the road to a technological society. Aware of the importance of his invention, Wozniak attended almost every meeting of the seminal Homebrew Computer Club, showing his new idea in the post-meeting demo events. In this film, the great moment is not the invention of the personal computer but Jobs’ recognition of it. He works hard to convince a reluctant Woz of the invention’s value and to get him to Homebrew, where Woz gives a boring speech, mostly about the size of the unit.
After Homebrew, Byte Shop owner Paul Terrell (Brad William Henke) discusses the new computer with Jobs. When Woz arrives at the conversation – he’s the one who gave the presentation and is carrying the product – Terrell walks by him without a word. On delivery of the computer boards, Terrell complains that he needs the whole computer, not just boards. After selling the idea of just the boards, Jobs says they’re getting ready for the Apple II. A confused Woz asks, “What are you talking about?” and Jobs calls it an all-in-one. In reality, Wozniak invented the Apple II shortly after he invented the Apple I.
The team starts building computers in Jobs’ family garage. Kutcher and Stern continue anti-woman brogramming by eliminating this first team’s female members, Elizabeth Holmes and Jobs’ sister Patty. His mother Clara (Lesley Ann Warren), who worked for early Silicon Valley tech company Varian Associates, is shown as his maid. She actually curtsies after serving food to the men. Much later his wife, Laurene Powell (Abby Brammell), gets one speaking scene. She worked for Goldman Sachs, earned a Stanford MBA, and founded a natural foods wholesale business. But in this movie, she serves breakfast and plans a shopping trip.
Then a real man shows up at the garage. Rod Holt (Ron Eldard) rides to the rescue on a motorcycle. The computer needs a heat-efficient power supply. Although other scenes use tech talk, this is the movie’s only truly technical scene, with the requirements and difficulty of the task clearly explained. At one point, Woz complains about Holt’s smoking, but he’s hushed so the great engineer can think. Later, when Jobs recruits personnel for his Macintosh team, he and Holt negotiate. Woz, also recruited, stands before Jobs’ desk and asks if this is a performance review.
At a Hawaiian sales meeting, Holt’s got a woman on his lap. Other than wedding rings, he and Jobs are the only men allowed female companionship. Woz’s wedding ring keeps appearing and disappearing. He did marry four times, but in this film it looks like all four weddings happened before Apple left the garage. At the end of the film, when the major characters are shown next to pictures of their actors, the charmingly dorky Rod Holt is not included.
Apple takes a booth at the First West Coast Computer Faire, where Jobs attracts a crowd. Suddenly in the limelight, a vain Woz takes off his glasses. In reality, Wozniak spent most of his time cruising the aisles for engineering competition and pulling a prank on the entire Faire. Jobs also enjoyed pranks, but he wasn’t in on this one, which involved a flyer for a fake computer with meaningless marketing-speak phrases. It had a graph comparing the joke computer with a few real ones. Jobs, along with a lot of others, fell for it, commenting that Apple fared well in the graph.
In the next scene, Apple is out of the garage and into a large office complex. Jobs’ girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Ahna O’Reilly) worked here, but we don’t see her. In this film, she’s a lovely stoner and a rejected pregnant lady. We do see a woman at a typewriter being supervised by Bill Fernandez (Victor Rasuk), a recognizable low-level employee. Brennan recently wrote a memoir, The Bite in the Apple, with insightful comments about misogyny.
Apple becomes successful and goes public. Jobs refuses founder’s stock to several of the original team. This actually prompted Wozniak to give them shares of his own allotment, although his generosity is not mentioned in the film. Instead, a lonely Woz confronts Jobs and explains why he got involved with the company. He did it because he wanted to be one of the guys and Jobs was the coolest guy he knew. He wanted to have fun. Like a suffering girlfriend, he beseeches Jobs, “I thought that’s what you wanted too.”
Then Jobs takes over the Macintosh team. In what was probably intended to be a private message from Kutcher and Stern to Wozniak, this section includes a shot of curly pink neon letters “W-o-z” on a bulletin board behind Kutcher while he talks about the competition. Wozniak, who has not acknowledged the prank, provided a clue about their motive in an interview on Bloomberg TV. He explained that he did not work with Kutcher and Stern because they gave him a draft script for comment. He preferred working with Sorkin, who spoke with him before writing the script.
Beginning with a courtship montage, radiant beauty queen John Sculley (Matthew Modine) arrives to be Apple CEO. At the Hawaiian meeting, he’s got a halo around his head. Sculley is a beautiful CEO, so he’s non-confrontational and has to be encouraged to speak up. After the initial CEO speech, a jealous Woz turns his back on Sculley and the company to play a video game. In Hawaii, Woz and Jobs start talking, but Jobs’ attention is drawn away and he dismisses Woz with a remark about having dinner. Woz says he’d like that, but we know it will never happen.
So Woz and Jobs have the inevitable late-night break-up scene. It opens with “Boots of Spanish Leather.” Woz says he’s leaving; they both knew this was coming; he can’t remember the last time they talked. By the end of the speech, Woz is crying and Jobs is unhappy. So he calls his other boyfriends, Sculley and Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney). But he has to leave messages, and the next thing we know, Jobs is kicked out of the company and seeking physical male comfort from his father (John Getz).
After mostly skipping NeXT and Pixar, the film sends Jobs back to Apple to save the company. He does it by dismissing two male Directors (uncredited) against spectacular windows and a garden staircase. Director Katherine Hudson (uncredited1), CEO of multinational Brady Corp., gets her news at a tiny plastic table in a cafeteria with dirty dishes. Adulterer Markkula, who promised to be on Jobs’ side and then voted for Sculley, receives his golden parachute in a meeting room. After whining about getting old, he walks along a hallway with the camera pulling back to reveal the women’s restroom. In this movie, that’s the ultimate insult.
But Kutcher and Stern take one more potshot at Wozniak. In the final scene, Jobs records an Apple promotion under a montage of shots from the early days, including one of the Apple team with Jobs leading the pack, Joanna Hoffman and Debi Coleman nowhere in sight. Steve Wozniak, inventor of the personal computer, co-founder of Apple, and astute judge of film projects, is relegated with Rod Holt to a distant second row.
- Joanna Hoffman and the three fired Board members are all uncredited, certainly explained by these being non-speaking roles. However, a naked non-verbal, non-moving woman, sleeping in Jobs’ bed, is given a credit (Olivia Johnson). Apple’s two fired male Directors were Delano Lewis, U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, and Bernard Goldstein. [↩]