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“BlackBerry” is an entertaining, often hilarious look at the rise and fall of the first smartphone, a fascinating exploration of the price of innovation in the ruthless business world and how well intentions and a passion for bringing fantasy and fiction to reality don’t always merge well with the need to know how to make money. Make no mistake, this is not the Canadian version of “The Social Network,” it is the real-life version of Mike Judge’s “Silicon Valley.”
Back in the ’90s, communications were going through a revolution — the rise of personal computers, of the cellphone. It is a time when technology threatens to completely change — if not outright kill — the way we do work and business traditionally. The world is ready to have an entire office in the palm of your hands, it just needs a couple of geniuses to make it happen.
This movie is not about those geniuses, however. Instead, “BlackBerry” focuses on three people responsible for the creation of the BlackBerry, the first smartphone to put an email machine on your phone. There’s Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), the smart programmer with a genius idea, and Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), the ruthless business shark who sees a chance to make lots of money. And there’s Douglas Fregin (director and co-writer Matt Johnson) a co-founder of the company and its morale booster. The film chronicles the rise and fall of the company, and how it managed to go from controlling 43% of the phone market at its heyday before losing it all once Steve Jobs came out with his (far inferior and overpriced, to be honest) iPhone.
A Hilarious Romp
This rise and fall story about a tech company could have easily just been another “Social Network” knock-off, or an attempt at doing yet another “Steve Jobs”-like exploration of the geniuses behind a big tech breakout. Thankfully, Matt Johnson knows better. “BlackBerry” has more in common with the works of Judd Apatow or Mike Judge than David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. The characters are all doofuses, their business manager and co-CEO is a sociopathic shark and like a character straight out of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
Johnson also leans hard into the comedy through visuals, employing a similar aesthetic to his 2013 film “The Dirties” and employing a mockumentary style to bring out the comedy in a broad, almost DIY way. Dramatic handheld zooms and very shaky camera help place us at the center of the action, and also call attention to the absurdity of the characters and their actions.
Taking advantage of the BlackBerry founders not being as recognizable or full of controversy as Zuckerberg or Jobs, Johnson allows his actors to play with the broad archetypes of the characters and truly make them their own.
Baruchel is fantastic as a pseudo-Richard Hendricks from “Silicon Valley,” a dorky doofus with a genius idea but zero sense of how business works, and someone who hears the worst deal in history and just jumps straight at it. Better yet, Baruchel manages to nail Lazaridis’ turn from innocent programmer to tech mogul without making him just another evil tech bro.
Howerton, however, easily steals the whole show, with a deranged, angry, and very loud performance as the dissatisfied and ruthless shark that did legitimately help sell the BlackBerry and turn it into a juggernaut.
The Rise And Fall Of A Titan
Though Johnson does make a point to show how special the BlackBerry was as a device, from its efficiency to the way they were built to last rather than churning them out quickly, he makes the smart choice of not focusing too much on a soulless piece of tech. Instead, “BlackBerry” is big into the spirit of innovation from a fandom perspective, serving as a love letter to those who see “Star Wars” as kids and spend their lives trying to bring science fiction to reality.
Indeed, the makers of the BlackBerry are cool not just because they created a revolutionary phone, but because they started out as friends who cared more about learning and reciting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” lines than learning about earnings projections, and that made their work better.
“BlackBerry” may not get the awards love “The Social Network” did, but it does turn a fascinating story into a very entertaining film.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
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