BLACKBERRY

★★★

A REFRESHING TAKE ON THE BRAND MOVIE

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
By Ashley Teresa
12th August 2023

Modern moviegoers would be forgiven for feeling fatigued every time they sit down with their popcorn at their local theatre; after all, the most recent filmmaking fad has been corporate cinema. Whether it's a peek behind the shoemaking curtain in 'Air', exploring how the 'Flamin' Hot' Cheeto came to be, or letting 'Barbie' ponder what she was made for, watching films has become synonymous with being sold a product. This is where 'BlackBerry' feels both refreshing and entertaining; you cannot even buy the product the film focuses on anymore.

'BlackBerry' tracks a slightly fictionalised version of the smartphone's rise and inevitable fall, all played up with witty dialogue and shaky handheld camerawork - in fact, the film is far more 'In the Loop' than 'The Social Network'. It's 1996 and Douglas Fregin (Matt Johnson, 'Operation Avalanche', who also directed and co-wrote the film) and Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel, 'How to Train Your Dragon' franchise), are flailing with their genius plan of putting emails in mobile phones. With a hilariously pathetic grasp on the business side of their pitch, their saving grace enters in the form of the bald and brazen Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton, 'The Hunt'). You see, he's recently been fired and is also in need of a life raft, so he leverages his new stake in Doug and Mike's company Research in Motion to help them out of debt and become the savvy businessmen who could actually turn BlackBerry into the iconic device it would become. It's dollar signs galore.

'BLACKBERRY' TRAILER

Considering we know the doomed outcome of the story, it would be all too easy to paint Doug and Mike as two nerds who got too big for their britches and failed to adapt their product to a changing tech landscape, but the film is far more sympathetic to them than that. Their genius changed the world, but their naïvety is only partly to blame; they simply just couldn't keep up with those pesky engineers over at Apple, whose iPhone was the ultimate stake through BlackBerry's heart. However, that doesn't make the ride to the end any less fun. Johnson's script is loaded with one-liners that will inevitably become staples of certain internet corners, delivered so naturally that most of the film's best moments feel like improvisation. There's real charm in Johnson's slobby but charming Doug and in Baruchel's sheepish Mike, but the clear MVP here is Glenn Howerton. I have been a huge fan of the sitcom 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' for years, and it shocked me that an actor as talented as Howerton would struggle to make a name for himself outside of his iconic role as sociopath Dennis Reynolds. However, after viewing 'BlackBerry', this begins to make perfect sense; his performance is fantastic but it's so hard to remove Dennis from the viewing experience, especially in the final act of the film where Howerton is given a chance to flex his comedic chops.

Johnson's script is loaded with one-liners that will inevitably become staples of certain internet corners, delivered so naturally that most of the film's best moments feel like improvisation.

What lets 'BlackBerry' down is its two-part structure, leaving a narrative gulf between the company hitting its highs and the onset of its downfall. I respect any film that doesn't give its audience every answer – after all, one needs to find ways to buy into a story they already know the end to – but the film is just a tad too long to really stick this landing. Furthermore, in attempting not to alienate audiences through the script's tech jargon, it tends to let its themes simply linger in a "man, doesn't this suck that this happened?" way, without interrogating the why; there's a curious character study in here, a worthy analysis of the recklessness tricks those in business will pull to stay on top. Unfortunately, 'BlackBerry' appears to be having too much fun to bother getting there.

Despite the obsolescence of the phone through both internal and external factors, 'BlackBerry' refuses to let itself fall down a similar path. It's funny in a way few films of this breed are.

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