THE STORY – The company behind the first smartphone, the BlackBerry, meets a catastrophic demise.
THE CAST – Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Rich Sommer, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Michelle Giroux, SungWon Cho, Mark Critch, Saul Rubinek & Cary Elwes
THE TEAM – Matt Johnson (Director/Writer) & Matthew Miller (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 121 Minutes
On paper, you may expect the presentation of “BlackBerry” to follow a similar approach to “The Social Network” or “Jobs.” This isn’t even the only 2023 release capitalizing on a twisted tale within a technological creation, as Jon S. Baird’s “Tetris” released earlier this year. There is certainly a dark story about the rise and fall of BlackBerry, which ties in with Steve Jobs and the creation of the iPhone, allowing the story to be told in a similar presentation and style. However, when the opening scene of “BlackBerry” features co-founder Doug (played by director Matt Johnson) entering an important business meeting wearing a t-shirt with the video game “Doom” logo on it, the film’s humorous tone becomes apparent very quickly.
In 1996, Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and his best friend and business partner, Douglas Fregin, were close to creating the world’s first smartphone. However, with financial blunders and no structure in their company Research in Motion, they struggle to finance the development of their newest innovation. When businessman Jam Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) agrees to join the company, he brings along the money and experience needed to create and sell a prototype of the BlackBerry smartphone. The invention brings the company success, providing the world with a new way to communicate and connect globally. However, the success of BlackBerry quickly spirals into a downfall, with scandals, illegal business moves, and personal grievances all coming into play before the next big competitor arrives.
With most sequences in the film shot with two cameras and no cuts between takes, Matt Johnson pushes the cast of “BlackBerry” to be loose, allowing mistakes to be made and for reactionary moments to be exaggerated. The story of the rise and fall of the BlackBerry smartphone itself is unbelievable, so to heighten the story with humor and an equally chaotic style of filmmaking makes for a hilarious watch that pushes the limits of the story. The best comparison to make for “BlackBerry” is that it’s a blend of “The Social Network” and the television series “The Office,” which ends up working for the most part. Great performances help sell the story and strike a balance between comedy and drama, with Glenn Howerton given the most to work with as the businessman who won’t accept no for an answer and is constantly blowing a gasket with profanity and volcanic outbursts of anger. Despite that, director Matt Johnson steals every scene as Doug, the co-founder who may not know much about how to run a company but cares about the integrity of his invention and the people within his business. It’s hard to look away from Johnson whenever he’s on screen, and even with the exaggerated humor placed on his character, he’s the one that the audience can sympathize with and emotionally connect to by the end of the film.
The comic tone starts to fade naturally when tension ramps up as BlackBerry becomes too large for its own good with shady business practices getting hidden underneath its wealth and success. This change in tone can be jarring, but it comes at a point within the story where a necessary switch has to be made for the audience to care about the subject matter. The screenplay does a solid job of informing the audience about everything behind the scenes, always maintaining interest, and ensuring any technical terms are well explained. The script also touches on some great themes that are still relevant, particularly regarding the importance of workplace morale and treating staff properly with respect. When Mike is questioned about why his employees should be happy to work a lot of overtime, he thinks it’s because of the status of the BlackBerry. Instead, it has to do with the work environment, and the downfall of morale in the workplace had a factor in the company’s downfall, something that businesses are still struggling to balance within our current landscape. It’s a small part of the commentary in “BlackBerry,” but one that sticks.
Many will love Johnson’s approach for telling the story of “BlackBerry,” but there will also be people who find his filmmaking frustrating. It may take a couple of scenes to get used to its style and tone, but there’s a compelling enough story and performances to keep the viewers engaged with just enough humor to support and emphasize the absurd nature of events. While the film could have been told in a more conventional format, Johnson takes risks with his direction and adds something fresh to this story, separating it from anything similar you may have seen recently.