Chances are better than average that you’re reading this review on your phone. And that, when you get a smartphone, you look for sites like this to show your personal interests. You probably don’t think about how this process works, because it’s a natural part of life today. Do you want to watch a movie about that? Maybe not in theory, especially if it’s carefully grounded in reality and shown in most sales meetings. on BlackBerryhowever, a movie about the first mass-produced smartphone, writer-director-actor Matt Johnson (The Dirties) is very clear up front that he is creating a fictionalized retelling. Actually, as it plays, it’s like a version of the Kids in the Hall sketch, set in real-but-fake-sounding Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Johnson’s previous works have mostly been found footage and mockumentary, so mixing fact and fiction is nothing new to him. For those who might go in expecting a “stranger than fiction” true story, however, here’s a quick fix: BlackBerry inventor Mike Lazaridis, a Greek immigrant described in the Canadian Globe and Mail as “a strong, friendly-looking man, with poofy silver hair and an amiable if most confident way about him,” looks like the actor. Jay Baruchel successively worse white wigs and the body language of a frightened rabbit. And BlackBerry is not, after all, named after a jelly stain on his shirt.
IFC’s slightly messy marketing of the subject matter aside, the movie seems a little more authentic than that Strange Al biopicbut somewhat less than The Social Network. The point of this is less to document an actual product development process, and more to offer a parable of nerds butting heads with cutthroat capitalism. Which is probably what defines the pop-cultural struggle of the last 20 years.
Great Proposal by Mike and Doug
The movie Mike Lazaridis (Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (director Johnson) are old-school nerds, like “Revenge of the…” who seem to have an ideal business, circa 1996. They sell modems for fat contracts, and their few employees usually play Wolfenstein or argue on Star Trek fan boards during work hours. Mike is the quiet genius while Doug, with his loudmouth, always in over his head, and bad T-shirt style is reminiscent of Judah Friedlander’s more aggressive persona. Neither is better at pitching their latest idea, an all-in-one device that combines a phone, pager, and email terminal in one pocket device.
After a bad presentation by humorless executive Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) falls flat, Balsillie himself is fired but interested enough in the product offering to take over Mike and Doug’s awkwardly named company, RIM (Research in Motion). Meeting her during a televised hockey game, Mike gets her to agree that they will be co-CEOs and, from there, the fun begins. At least in this telling. Introverted Mike has all the smarts and the monomaniacal focus on creating the best product. Hockey fiend Jim is a brash corporate guy who has never seen Star Wars but probably knows Glengarry Glenn Ross by heart. Among them is Doug, who fancies himself the hero of every underdog movie when he’s actually little more than real-life comic relief — until it can be called “real life,” anyway.
Cameos? As You Like…
Mike and Doug’s posse of brilliant dorks love their movie nights, making some of the stunt casting here a subtle in-joke. Cary Elwes appears as the CEO of Palm Pilot who threatens a hostile takeover, making him a sort of dreaded corporate pirate. Michael Ironside in a bulked-up suit he looked like Burl Ives playing the Kingpin in his role as a corporate disciplinarian. That the BlackBerry team can be among the real Elwes and Ironside’s biggest fans does not need remarking; if you are the target audience for this movie, you know. Balsillie, whose name seems like an obvious cheap joke set up, finds its pronunciation running the appropriate root. When he takes a risk and rises, he insists it be pronounced “BALLS-ly.” Later, as the company declined, it became “Ball-SILLY.”
In fact, neither Mike nor Jim left very well, as rich people usually don’t. The rise-and-fall arc fits the film’s formula, but it’s more of a schadenfreude generator here. In hindsight, of course Mike fixing a keypad seems pointlessly myopic, and Jim’s attempt to buy an American NHL team and move it to Canada is silly. What goes unsaid is the fact that these are the types of people we all ultimately follow, and once they can ditch the classic, socially awkward nerds, they will.
Nerd-vana? Don’t do it anymore.
Nowadays, everyone from Chris Hardwick to Dwayne Johnson is a self-proclaimed “nerd,” often based on something like the fact that they watch Saturday morning cartoons and play with numbers of Star Wars as a child, like everyone else. BlackBerry took us back to a time when it meant something else, and the people who applied the label for a while seemed like they were on a permanent rise. Instead, they became coopted, like the nouveau riche. This may be a fantastical retelling, but it also feels like a pointed warning. No matter how much you love your job, it won’t love you if there is even a small chance that it would be more profitable without you. The real Mike Lazaridis apparently understands this, always making time for his wife and children that the movie doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of.
As a director, Johnson wants to make the audience uncomfortable, but by playing Doug with a combination of insane mugging and genuine passion, he telegraphs that you can laugh with the characters on screen. After all, the real ones laugh all the way to their fat severance checks.
As ComingSoon policy review explains, a score of 7 equals “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment worth watching, but it won’t appeal to everyone.