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May 12, 2023



Matt Johnson - 2023
IFC Films

On the surface, BlackBerry is an addition to the sub-genre of films about brand names and the people who were key in creation of those brands. Perhaps not consciously, but these films also reflect the self-identification people have with brand names, be it what were formerly known as sneakers, t-shirts with company logos, or owning the most up-to-date mobile phone. Conspicuous consumption as classically understood does not apply as applicable items come in a variety of price ranges. BlackBerry is less interested in how a small, undisciplined tech bros were able to create the first cell phone that had multiple uses, than how the BlackBerry dominated the cell phone market, setting the standard for almost decade, only to be eclipsed by a combination of newer technological advances and bad business decisions.

While acknowledging the non-fiction history of BlackBerry, Losing the Signal, the film is partially fictionalized. Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin have a small tech company and a dream of creating a cell phone that connects with the internet and can also be used for sending text messages. While they and their team may technical skills, neither Mike nor Doug are skilled at doing business. Jim Balsillie, the recipient of one of Mike and Doug's sales pitches, buys into the company, sharing CEO duties with Mike. Jim's aggressiveness is a counterweight to Mike's seeming passivity, although it is soon indicated that it is Mike's ability to explain the technology of the BlackBerry which helps change the fortune of the company. The story is one where business culture eventually takes over the bro culture where working hours were once spent with constant gaming and movie nights. Mike eventually starts dressing the part of a highly successful businessman while Doug refuses to change from his ultra casual t-shirts and shorts.

Like many previous stories about businesses and businessmen, pride comes before the fall. The BlackBerry is sold as a status symbol, only to lose its place to Apple's I-Phone and its many successors. Jim takes unethical steps in hiring the best technical engineers, and tries to buy his way into the National Hockey League. Mike's response to Apple's touchscreen technology is of outright dismissal that there could be anything better than the operating system and use of a keyboard that he created in the late 1990s. Not that there is an unhappy ending as Mike, Jim and Doug left BlackBerry quite wealthy.

The main roles are taken by Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton and director Johnson, and unsurprisingly lean into the comic aspects of their respective characters. That axiom of Canadian cinema, Saul Rubinek, appears as the head of a cell phone company. The film runs two hours long, and is admittedly reasonably entertaining and distracting. The film, in keeping with the times we live in, also has the substance of a social media tweet or posting, equally ephemeral.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 12, 2023 05:28 AM