BlackBerry Review: A Very Dumbed-Down Smartphone Story
It’s better than usual that you’re reading this review on your phone. And that, once you had a smartphone, you searched for sites like this one to show your personal interests. You probably don’t even think about how that process came about, because it’s just a natural part of life now. Would you like to see a movie about that? Maybe not in theory, especially if it was loosely based on reality and featured mostly marketing meetings. In BlackBerry, however, a film about the first mass-produced smartphone, writer-director-actor Matt Johnson (The Dirties) is very clear in advance that he has made a fictional retelling. Basically, the way it plays, it’s like a sketch version of Kids in the Hall, set in the real but fake Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Johnson’s previous works have been found as films and satires, so mixing fact and fiction is nothing new for him. For those who might be expecting a true “stranger than fiction” story, however, here’s a quick fix: BlackBerry inventor Mike Lazaridis, a Greek immigrant described by the Canadian Globe and Mail as “a beefy, friendly guy , with poofy. silver hair and a friendly manner if he is extremely confident about it,” he looks nothing like the actor Jay Baruchel in worse white wigs and scary rabbit body language. And the BlackBerry, of course, was not named after after a jelly stain on his shirt.
IFC’s slightly muddled marketing on the subject aside, the film seems to be a bit more realistic than the Weird Al biopic, but a lot less than The Social Network. Its point is less to document the actual process of product development, and more to offer a parable of nerds clashing head on with cutthroat capitalism. This is arguably the defining pop-cultural struggle of the past 20 years.
Excellent Suggestion Mike and Doug
Mike Lazaridis (Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (director Johnson) in the film are old-school nerds, like in “Revenge of the…” who seem to have a good business, circa 1996. They sell models for fat deals, and the handful of employees usually play Wolfenstein or argue over Star Trek fan boards during work hours. Mike is a quiet genius while Doug, with his loud mouth, ever-present headband, and badly styled T-shirts recalls the more aggressive persona of Judah Friedlander. It’s not particularly good at introducing their latest idea, an all-in-one device that combines a phone, pager, and e-mail device in a pocketable device.
After an awkward show for humorless executive Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) falls flat, Balsillie himself is fired but interested enough in the product to take over Mike and Doug’s named company, RIM ( Research in Motion). Negotiating it at a televised hockey game, Mike gets him to agree to be co-leaders and, from there, the fun begins. At least in this statement. All the smarts and the monomaniacal focus of the introverted Mike on making the best result. Hockey fiend Jim is a brash physical guy who has never seen Star Wars but probably knows Glengarry Glenn Ross by heart. Between them is Doug, who sees himself as the hero of every underdog movie when he’s really more of a comic relief—to the point that this can be called “real life,” co at least
Cameos? As you wish…
Mike and Doug like their movie nights great doors, which turns some of the stunt casting here into a joke. Cary Elwes stars as the CEO of Palm Pilot threatening a hostile takeover, which makes him a kind of fearsome corporate pirate. Michael Ironside in full suit looks like Burl Ives playing the Kingpin in his role as a physical control. that the BlackBerry team would be among the true Elwes fans and Ironside’s biggest fans need not mention it; if you are the target audience for this movie, you know. Balsillie, whose name sounds like an obvious cheap joke set up, finds the pronunciation runs the appropriate gamut. When he’s taking risks and getting up, he insists it’s pronounced “BALLS-ly.” Later, as the company declines, it becomes “Ball-SILLY.”
Actually, neither Mike nor Jim came off too badly, as rich people don’t often. The rise and fall arc fits the movie formula, but it’s more of a schadenfreude generator here. In retrospect, Mike’s position on the keyboard actually seems pointlessly myopic, and Jim’s attempt to buy an American NHL team and move it to Canada is insane. Left unsaid is the fact that these are the kind of people we all end up being, and when they get rid of the classic, socially awkward nerds, they will.
Nerd-van? Never mind.
Today, everyone from Chris Hardwick to Dwayne Johnson is a self-proclaimed “nerd”, often based on something like watching Saturday morning cartoons and playing with Star Wars figures as a child, just like everyone else. BlackBerry takes us back to a time when it meant something else, and the people who applied the label seemed briefly as if they had a permanent promotion. Instead, they were co-opted, as the nouveau riche do. This may be an imaginary repetition, but it also feels like a pointed warning. No matter how much you may love your job, it does not love you back if there is even the slightest chance that it can be more profitable without you. It seems that the real Mike Lazaridis understood this, always giving time to his wife and children that the film does not even acknowledge his existence.
As a director, Johnson likes to make audiences uncomfortable, but in playing Doug with a mix of goofy mugging and genuine enthusiasm, he reveals that you can laugh both at and with the characters on the screen. After all, the real ones laughed all the way to their fat splitting studies.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equals “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment worth checking out, but may not appeal to everyone.