'BlackBerry' Is a Quintessentially Canadian Story of Innovation and Inferiority

Directed by Matt Johnson

Starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Rich Sommer, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Michelle Giroux, Sungwon Cho, Mark Critch, Saul Rubinek, Cary Elwes

Photo courtesy of Elevation Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished May 8, 2023

The BlackBerry is long obsolete in the current technological landscape, and yet it remains one of the most important inventions of the 21st century. Developed in Waterloo, ON, by Canadians Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, the keyboard-and-trackball-equipped and internet-enabled phone would experience over a decade of absolute dominance before being toppled by another fruit-forward mobile company. It was the humble BlackBerry that, for better or worse, sent the world into a smartphone fever dream — and while we as a country rarely recognize this feat, Matt Johnson's latest film aims to give Canada its overdue credit.

Jay Baruchel leads the way as Lazaridis, a socially awkward innovator with a clear vision for exactly what the BlackBerry could be. Johnson takes a small supporting role in the film as Doug Fregin, Lazaridis's best friend and initial business partner whose frat-boy tendencies fail to inspire confidence from would-be investors. Their fortunes would turn upon meeting Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), the hockey-loving ball buster who transforms their company, Research in Motion (RIM), into a force to be reckoned with around the world.

BlackBerry takes the cradle-to-grave approach, detailing the early days of RIM right through to the catastrophic BlackBerry Storm debacle that would prove to be the final nail in the tech company's coffin. Along the way, we see the change in Lazaridis, as he matures into a corporate suit, as well as Balsillie's various exploits, including infamously attempting to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and relocate them to Hamilton, ON. 

Given the breadth of the material, Johnson does a tremendous job of focusing the film on the essentials without losing the humanity of the men behind the phone. The techno-babble is kept to a minimum, and corporate behind-the-scenes haggling is presented in a compelling manner. Tying the film together is a wicked soundtrack filled with '90s gems that go a long way in establishing the time period.

One of the strengths of BlackBerry is the precarious tightrope it walks between drama and comedy. Given the comedic acumen of Johnson, it's inevitable that a degree of humour is weaved throughout the script. Johnson keeps the subject matter relatively light, never succumbing to over-dramatics, instead finding the funny in seemingly plain moments. Undoubtedly, Baruchel and Howerton's own comedic talents lend a hand in finding this balance. 

While both are mostly known for sitcoms and jocular turns, their dramatic abilities are given a chance to shine in BlackBerry. This is one of the heftier dramatic roles Baruchel has taken on, and he does so with great ease. The Golden God himself delivers a stunning performance, as Howerton gives Balsillie the perfect amount of cutthroat intensity. 

The story of BlackBerry is both inspiring and disheartening. Canada has never been in short supply of ingenuity and know-how, and BlackBerry brilliantly exemplifies this. It's also a cautionary tale for inventors and entrepreneurs, exploring what happens when they succumb to capitalistic pressures and ignore their better judgment. And this is where Johnson excels: he never forgets about the people that made BlackBerry into a game-changer, nor does he forget the country where it all started.
(Elevation Pictures)

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