By Megan Bianco
On paper, Matt Johnson’s new historical drama, BlackBerry, sounds like a parody of modern biopics.
Comedy actors Glenn Howerton and Jay Baruchel as the stars? Who is asking for a movie about the rise of an outdated smartphone in 2023? Why bother when we already have plenty of tech flicks out there?
And yet, shockingly, it’s actually pretty good. The leads are very strong and aren’t out of place, and the humor is appropriate without being too silly. I would even go as far as to say the film probably has the strongest structure out of all the business dramas released recently.
In 1996 Waterloo, Canada, computer engineers Mike Lazaridis (Baruchel) and Doug Fredon (Johnson) are struggling to sell their invention of phone-plus-email that’s also half the size of a portable phone.
Entrepreneur Jim Balsillie (Howerton) suddenly pitches them an offer to get their product off the ground if they hire him as CEO of their tiny tech company, Research in Motion. Within a decade, their device, the BlackBerry, goes from a pipe dream to a major player, with only Apple’s products as their competition in the 2000s.
But with all good things comes temptation—especially for Jim.
What’s interesting about BlackBerry is that it truly is a rise-and-fall tale rather than a success story. Unlike Windows, iPhones and Facebook, very few use a BlackBerry anymore. They started out in obscurity and went back into it after only 13 years.
I also loved Baruchel’s hilarious delivery of, “Why would anyone want a smartphone without a keypad?” Howerton achieves a smooth mix of clever and power-hungry as the owner of RIM. And like with Ben Affleck’s Air, I’m a sucker for opening credits that are a pop culture montage.
I did feel Johnson was a bit too much with his comic relief-heavy role as the third BlackBerry founder, though. I get the sense that the writer-director wanted the part of Fredon to basically feel like the Steve Wozniak of the RIM team, at least on film. But a lot of the time, he came across more obnoxious than endearing.
If you like corporate drama, though, BlackBerry will do the trick.