Some of the best biopics are the ones about the formation of a major company. Think: The Social Network, Wolf of Wall Street, Tetris, or The Founder. To my surprise, Blackberry easily joins their ranks as a fictionalized true-story dramedy “inspired by real people and real events that took place in Waterloo, Ontario.” Based on the book by Sean Silcoff and Jacquie McNish, Blackberry has a very Canadian feel, especially being filmed on location in both Canada and Los Angeles. This dark take on the American dream is an oddball treat depicting one of the grandest entrepreneurial success stories that helped to shape the cell phone landscape as we know it.
Vintage-style footage reigns over the opening credits of Blackberry, taking us back to the earliest days of the internet as the rise of cellular devices was just beginning to spread into the mainstream in a major way. RIM (or, Research In Motion) is a company on the brink of collapse, with millions of dollars worth of debt behind them after a logistical nightmare results in termination of a modem contract. Their newest idea for a groundbreaking cell phone can deliver emails and data in a way that no one at the time has ever seen before. Innovative inventor Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and co-founder Doug (Matt Johnson, who also co-writes and directs) are in desperate need of an investor to help get their concept into the right hands. Enter: this film’s MVP, aggressive businessman Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton). Seeking to own 51% of the company and become sole CEO, Jim brings an immediate authoritative vibe that does not quite gel with Doug’s sensibilities.
Eventually, a beautiful partnership is born. Mike agrees to give Jim 33% of the company and the opportunity to be his co-CEO—not quite everything Jim wanted, yet he takes control anyway. Freshly fired from his job and gambling his entire mortgage to ensure RIM’s employees continue getting paychecks, Jim has more on the line than just a minor investment. With Jim’s business expertise brought to the table, Blackberry quickly evolves into greatness. Pitching the device as “the world’s smallest email terminal,” Mike’s tech-savvy is able to wow the right people, and quickly the phone balloons into a success.
The initial climb is anything but easy; the grassroots campaign to turn the Blackberry from a mere cell phone into a status symbol by transforming the employees into models of the product was a genius move. A scramble to invent a prototype the night before a major meeting will give anyone anxiety. Massive service interruptions threaten to collapse the empire entirely. Eventually though, the Blackberry phone becomes the #1 handset in sales. I was shocked to learn that Blackberry controlled 45% of the cellphone market at the peak of its popularity. How did it have such a spectacularly horrid fall from grace? In essence, the Blackberry somehow became the Blockbuster of cellular devices.
The acting here is exceptionally good from everyone involved, but Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton in particular really wowed me. Mike’s obsession with not bowing down to outsourcing product parts to China in order to maintain the Blackberry’s excellence feels like a noble cause, and makes the eventual ending supremely powerful. Jim is more complicated, as he schemes and toys with company stocks to recruit the right team to pull Blackberry out of sticky situations. Hilariously enough, I found that Jim’s appearance resembled another iconic entrepreneur in the form of Marcus Lemonis.
Blackberry certainly caused me to reflect on my own reliance on these devices. I will never forget one of my favorite phones that I ever owned, the Blackberry Curve, and that signature “click” Mike describes as being a vital part of its brand. The death of the Blackberry as we know it was truly a nail in the coffin as of 2022, when their products ceased all functionality as working phones. Blackberry represents not only the end of an era, but an all-inclusive look back at what made it so successful in the first place. The doe-eyed intent to make the world a better place often begins in the most genuine ways. Its corruption is a true tragedy, outsourced to China.
Rattle off an email at rapid pace once Blackberry debuts exclusively in theaters from IFC Films on Friday, May 12th.