In Alien: Covenant, Michael Fassbender’s character David said, “Big things have small beginnings.” Aliens fans know what he was talking about. He could have been referring to the birth of the BlackBerry mobile device. Nearly 30 years ago, that “small beginning” kicked off a revolution in your hand. Matt Johnson‘s chaotic comedy biopic, BlackBerry, tells the story of the meteoric rise and collapse of the smartphone.
If you ever wondered who may be responsible for a generation that walks around with their heads down, staring at expensive mobile devices, communicating primarily through social media or text message rather than their natural voice, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin are probably the guys you’re looking for. They are the brains behind Research In Motion (RIM) who made it all happen. This isn’t a story that comes from the valleys of California, aka Silicon Valley, but rather from Canada and specifically Wellington, Ontario, America’s neighbour.
Before Apple dominated the market with its iPhones and Android equivalents, the phone of choice was BlackBerry. The idea was created by a group of nerdy engineers led by CEO Lazaridis (played by Jay Baruchel) along with Fregin (played by the director himself, Matt Johnson). They had the audacity and ambition to create a mobile or “cellular device with email, text, and internet”.
That journey started in 1996 when Lazaridis and Fregin had a meeting to pitch their idea. They pitched their idea to Jim Balsillie (played by Glenn Howerton), who would of course become a driving force for the company. Balsillie first rejected their idea, only to return the following day and see that the guys were sitting on a goldmine. Ruthless and cunning, he first fixed the “holes” in the finances, and then he got the pitch that would give birth to the iconic phone.
In reality, Jim is a shark who first manipulates Lazaridis and Fregin, becoming a co-CEO. At first, his help propelled the company, which would see BlackBerry gain 43% of the phone market. As they grew larger, he would gallivant around in the company’s jet, spending money as if it were going out of fashion. When trouble reared its ugly head, he would throw money at individuals who would dig the company out of holes, with no thought about consequences. Jim was nowhere to be seen when the company slowly slid down the downward spiral. He seemed to be more interested in ice hockey.
It wasn’t all his fault; Apple had their say in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone. This took the mobile phone revolution to the next level with a phone that had no QWERTY-style keyboard. The keyboard appeared on the screen, but Lazaridis was adamant that people still wanted that click.
Matt Johnson said in the Q&A after the film that he was going for “Not something you expect on the history of a phone.” If anything, BlackBerry was more about Canada having a slice of the international market, something Canadians could be proud of despite the negativity that came with the phone. Society seemed to focus on that negativity rather than crediting those engineers who created the phone. The 1990s and 2000s were groundbreaking times for technology, and not every product was born in Silicon Valley.
Blackberry is not your straight-up comedy biopic. There is a lot of handheld camera work, giving the film a more documentary-style feel, which actually works for the film. Lazaridis, Fregin, and Jim are still the main focus of the narrative, keeping close to the source material as much as possible. Baruchel is quietly reserved, still a genius much in the way Jesse Eisenberg was in The Social Network. Johnson is the total opposite, childlike and more confident than his best friend. Both play off each other really well, polar opposites making the perfect double act. Howerton could easily be the star attraction who talks the talk and walks the walk, usually when it’s in his favour.
Apart from some pacing issues, Blackberry is a slick film that’s chaotic in every way, especially in a funny way.
Blackberry will have a UK release sometime in 2023 by Paramount.
Comedy, Biopic | Canada, 2023 | 15 | Glasgow Film Festival | Paramount Pictures | Dir.Matt Johnson | Jay Baruchel, Glen Howerton, Matt Johnson, Michael Ironside, Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek