MOVIE | Dark humor frames this fictionalized account of the rise and demise of a once-ubiquitous phone
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➤ Rated R
This year we have a deluge of nostalgia-driven movies about the origins of consumer products—the Tetris video game, Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—but BlackBerry, a film about those once ubiquitous smartphones with the tiny keyboards, approaches its subject with some dark Canadian humor.
The film begins in mid-’90s Waterloo, Ontario, where computer-hardware company Research in Motion struggles to survive. Founders Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson, who also directs) might be genius tech engineers, but they have no idea how to run a business or market their next big idea, a cell phone that also allows users to read and respond to email.
Enter Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), a hard-driving executive who attempts to get results through a combination of shouting, cursing, and lying. Jim believes he can sell this new phone, and Mike believes he needs the tough-minded Jim for success. Jim invests in Research in Motion, and he and Mike become co-CEOs.
BlackBerry strikes a nice balance of explaining Mike’s technical achievements in ways that don’t sound like Star Trek babble. But despite the victories, we all know how it’s going to end. After all, today no one has a BlackBerry in their pocket.
The cinematography is reminiscent of The Office, which started its run while the BlackBerry was at its height, and though we get quick camera movement and furtive shots, the movie doesn’t contain interviews like other mockumentaries. Along with the sense of reality, nostalgia captures our emotions, but that nostalgia is more subtle, less gimmicky, than in Ben Affleck’s Air.
Other biopics and historical films proudly state “based on a true story,” but BlackBerry modestly claims to be a mere “fictionalization.” The movie doesn’t even explain the truth behind the device’s name, instead offering an amusing sight gag.
BlackBerry is a comic drama, and in true Canadian style, it features plenty of irony and satire. The movie isn’t actually about smartphones or the building of a company—it just uses a real company as the setting for the rise and fall of fallible men. The film mimics a Greek tragedy where within the hero’s greatness lie the seeds of his undoing.
Mike becomes an especially pitiable character. He pursues perfection in an imperfect world, but he doesn’t have the strength of character to avoid being tossed to and fro by human cunning. The morally ambiguous Jim entices Mike and others with promises of riches in order to further his own agenda, while Doug acts as the soul of Mike’s pure vision for the tech world. Who knows whether different decisions could have saved the BlackBerry? This movie, however, asks us to count the cost of compromised principles.
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