May 12, 2023 / VVS Films
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek, Matt Johnson, Rich Sommer, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan
Directed By: Matthew Johnson
The story of Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, the two men that charted the course of the spectacular rise and catastrophic demise of the world’s first smartphone.
Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
BlackBerry is a fascinating and hilarious retelling of the world’s first smartphone, its rise and cataclysmic demise, with strong performances and direction that makes for an outstanding Canadian independent film that audiences are destined to enjoy.
Long before I was an iPhone user, I had a BlackBerry and loved it. The keyboard, the internet capability, BBM, there was no way I was ever switching away from a BlackBerry as my preferred choice of cellphone. Or at least until the downfall of the company which forced my hand to switch to Apple. While younger audiences today may not remember the phone, older audiences will have fond memories of either having a BlackBerry themselves, or pointing out their friend’s “CrackBerry”, and that is what Matt Johnson’s latest film relies on to draw the audience into this true story adaptation of how BlackBerry took the world by storm and all of a sudden dropped off the face of the Earth.
Set at various points during the lifecycle of the BlackBerry, the film tells the tale of the world’s first smartphone from the point of view of co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsille. Touching on both the early days and the creation of the first prototype of the BlackBerry, the growth phase of the company as it took over the cellular phone market and revolutionized the cellular phone industry, and the final haydays of the company on the eve of the launch of the iPhone. Primarily focused on the business and less of the personal lives of the individuals involved, the film offers insights into what made the BlackBerry a worldwide phenomenon and what factored into it being non-existent in the market by 2010.
2020 seems to be the year for true stories about popular products in history, first with Tetris in AppleTV+’s Tetris, then with Air Jordan in Air, and now with the BlackBerry. Each film has done something new with the formula, with Tetris being a Cold War spy thriller and Air not focusing on the famous athlete at the centre of the product, and BlackBerry once again does something new with the subgenre. While the story plays out in a similar fashion to David Fincher’s The Social Network, writer director and star Johnson writes the film with a dark and biting comedic undertone that gives off some major Succession vibes. The result is a film that is not only informative as to the story of the BlackBerry, albeit surface level at times when discussing the phone’s demise, but deeply funny as you watch the absurdity of this story take place as well as the disastrous downfall of the device which you can’t help but chuckle at. The first two acts of the film are its strongest when focused on the creation of the phone and how it changed the cellular phone industry in the early 2000s, providing insight the average viewer may not know which is fascinating. The final act surrounding the phone’s demise is not as interesting as having seen what the iPhone became, it’s no surprise the BlackBerry died a quick and painful death and the film does not provide much insight that audiences don’t already know from the newspaper headlines. It’s a great screenplay, full of hilarious moments, pop culture references and moments that will have you shaking your head at the stupidity of some of the decisions made, that under Johnson’s direction makes for an entertaining watch from start to finish.
Leading the film is Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton as Lazaridis and Balsillie, both of whom are excellent. Baruchel, while unrecognizable at times, is a perfect fit for Lazardis. Like so many technological geniuses, there is a timidness to them, which is where Baruchel revels in the role. Watching him portray Lazaridis’s own downfall as he gets sucked into the cutthroat world of business and loses sight of what he initially set out to do, Baruchel gives what is easily one of the strongest performances of his career, and I can think of no better Canadian actor to play this Canadian inventor. On the other hand, Howerton is a true monster as Balsillie. Acting like a distant member of the Roy Family, Howerton displays true wickedness as he yells, swears and degrades anyone to get ahead in the tech game. It’s all done to great comedic effect, playing into Howerton’s skills as a comedian. Baruchel and Howerton tower over the film, commanding your attention with their great performance, though Johnson does make a memorable supporting turn as Doug, Lazaridis’s friend and business partner. Johnson brings a warmth to the film, which helps amplify the absurdity and greed that took down BlackBerry, and ultimately gives his character the last laugh which is a wonderful moment.
It may be a small, independent Canadian film, but BlackBerry is one film that audiences around the world are going to be talking about. Providing a highly entertaining retelling of the success and failure of the BlackBerry, anchored by strong performance from Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton with an excellent screenplay and direction from Matt Johnson who is the true MVP of the film, BlackBerry is simultaneously fascinating and hilarious that is sure to entertain audiences from start to finish.