cinema · GFF23

Film review: BlackBerry

In the social media-obsessed era we live in today, it’s almost difficult to remember a time before smartphones; when we didn’t have a world of information available to us at the mere touch of a button. Indie filmmaker Matt Johnson transports us back to that period, adapting Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry into what can be described as a comedy biopic of sorts.

 Set in the smalltown of Waterloo, Ontario, the film sees visionary engineer Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and his best friend Doug (the director, Johnson) develop the very first device that combined telephone, email, and pager technology. With the support and financial backing of businessman Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), the pioneering product is launched but as the company grows, their almighty success soon spirals out of their control.

Due to the freewheeling way in which he shoots, Johnson has become something of a cult figure within the Canadian film scene. There’s an exciting chaos to the underdog narrative which plays out in a mockumentary style, and hilarity ensues when Mike and Doug’s fun-loving nerdsphere collides with the corporate landscape of global tech. A particular highlight involves a calamitous pitch which has all the wit and verve of The Big Short but the DIY idiosyncrasies of The Office. For all of its goofy disorder, something that feels completely controlled is the attention to detail in its production design, with an array of pop culture references that really enhance the surroundings of the story.

You get a strong sense of camaraderie from the performances, and the main players each bring something special to their roles. Baruchel, returning from a career break, is the beating heart of the piece, torn between the loyalty to his employees and the greedy lure of fortune. There’s a great pathos to his performance, and his and Johnson’s double act is a joy to behold. In stark contrast, Howerton rips through the film with an abrasive ruthlessness. Unrecognisable with his side-god makeunder, he threatens to steal every scene with his fantastically foul-mouthed reactions to the highs and lows of their collective journey.

 Most will be well aware of the revolutionary BlackBerry smartphone and now, thanks to writer and director Matt Johnson’s brilliantly offbeat gags-to-riches flick, the madcap minds behind the mobile, and the friendship they had, can be remembered too.


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