Recounting the rise and fall of a tech empire, this dramedy makes for one of the most entertaining films of the first half of the year.
With summer moviegoing just beginning, it’s an annual reminder not to forget about the films not labeled as “blockbusters” also getting their proper releases. That could not be truer for a film like BlackBerry, which takes a close look at the device that marked the beginning of smartphones dominating our attention spans and the people at the top who helped shape it. From writer, director, and co-starrer Matt Johnson, BlackBerry tells its story up close, and often humorously, at a fast pace as if you’re reading a funny story a friend sent you via a group chat on your smartphone. As sharp as the cutting-edge technology the company placed in the palm of the hands of the public in the early 2000s, BlackBerry never fails to entertain its viewers. Whether showing the banter between employees at the tech company or documenting how the gadget helped advance the company and people associated with the device to point it was in nearly half of cellphone users at the peak of its time, this film never disappoints.
BlackBerry takes its viewers through a 20-ish year look at the company’s small beginnings, through its rise to fame, and to the company’s failure to keep up with rival tech companies. Bright engineers Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), who is shy, and Douglas Fregin (Matt Johnson), who is quite outgoing, help run a company called Research in Motion (RIM), which is struggling to make ends meet despite all the geniuses within their small workspace. When the gentlemen meet Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) while he’s working at another company, Jim sees a vision for RIM, but the company desperately needs upper management help, and wants to join the company as a CEO. Balsillie joins the company as Co-CEO with Lazaridis, and from there, we watch as the company skyrockets and helps cultivate the infamous handheld device with a keyboard.
As an adult dramedy that is dialogue heavy, viewers might get the sense they are watching something from famed writer Aaron Sorkin here. BlackBerry is a smart film that doesn’t bore its viewers by showing the inner workings of how ruthless the tech industry can be. Rather, it shows whether it’s the people running the show or the ignorance of these companies that aren’t thinking two steps ahead in the ever-changing landscape, there always is the possibility of failure. Ultimately, it’s a cautionary tale about how running a business comes down to the people leading the way. And in the case of BlackBerry, the main point is that even though co-CEOs in Lazaridis and Balsillie are opposites, they don’t necessarily attract.
In likely his best on-screen performance to date, Baruchel as Lazaridis, the milder-mannered, shy guy and the brains of the operation feels eerily like other characters he has portrayed in other films. However, the difference here is that his character’s story arc in BlackBerry proves to be quite more fascinating than anything else we’ve seen him in before, as we watch him change over time due to the popularity of the gadget. On the other end is Howerton as Balsille, who is great (and often hilarious) as the foul-mouthed guy who likes to take shortcuts. Howerton’s character may remind some viewers of his character on the hit comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But his character here has more layers than you might expect, including the aspirations of wanting to own an NHL team someday (at one point, he was interested in buying the Nashville Predators).
BlackBerry surprises its viewers in how funny it is throughout its runtime and how it’s more than just a tale about the cellphone landscape before the iPhone further advanced the smartphone business. Sure, it eventually addresses that elephant in the room; but Matt Johnson makes sure the film smartly focuses on the business side of the BlackBerry company operation throughout as a cautionary tale about what can happen if you don’t plan things out accordingly. I do wonder how this angle would have played out had the film been released in the fall instead. But regardless, this is a film that should not leave the mind of its viewers as the year goes on.