2023 is truly the year of the product biopic. From Air Jordans to Tetris to BlackBerry, we are getting the lowdown on all of our favorite products. Or products of yesteryear, in this case.
Directed by Matt Johnson, BlackBerry is the story of the humble beginnings of the most popular cellphone in the early 2000s. What started as an idea between Mike (Jay Baruchel), Doug (Johnson), and their merry band of misfits turned into something much bigger. The movie details the meteoric rise of the BlackBerry as the world’s first smartphone and how all of it came crumbling down.
After a failed pitch to businessman Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), the two begin thinking about their next pitch. But after Balsillie loses his job, he reaches out to Mike and Doug. He saw something in their pitch and wants to get in on the ground-floor. His plans are a bit more nefarious, however, as he wants to be named CEO of the business. When they reach an agreement, utilizing Balsillie’s business smarts and Mike/Doug’s technological smarts, BlackBerry is born.
A New Trend in Hollywood
As mentioned above, this year will go down as the year that Hollywood discovered there is a market for product biopics. Sure, we have had some before this. But in the first five months of the year, we have had three movies of this type. And we have more coming! Do you want to know how Cheetos became Flamin’ Hot? That movie is coming! Curious how Pop-Tarts became popular? That movie is on its way! I have seen some people complain about this trend and its general pro-consumerism messaging. But I disagree completely.
All of these movies are not built to sell us Tetris or BlackBerrys (we couldn’t buy them even if we wanted to!) But more so to find a new way to tell a “true” story. These products generally have a hook that make their founding stories interesting. Air Jordans practically saved Nike, Tetris was a product of communism, and BlackBerry’s light shined brighter than we had ever seen but only for a short time. If these products didn’t have a hook, these movies would not be made.
BlackBerry ultimately proves to be more than its hook. Thanks, in large part, to its acting. Jay Baruchel is such a welcome present in any form of art. He is one actor that I consistently forget how much I like him until the next time I see him. But even then, he is the best he has ever been in this movie. Finding the balance between being the reserved inventor and the man confident in his product, Baruchel’s transformation is seen throughout the movie. He starts with an idea but when that idea becomes a phenomenon, we see the difference in his character. Even better than Baruchel is Howerton.
Howerton as Scene Stealer
Howerton gives a tour de force performance as Jim Balsillie. He is a cutthroat, menacing businessman who will stop at nothing to get the power that he believes he deserves. With his over-the-top outbursts, he immediately calls to mind J.K. Simmons’ character from Whiplash. He steals every scene he is in and while the movie is consistently good, it is absolutely at its best when Howerton is involved. He commands our attention during every second of screentime he has.
BlackBerry does such a good job of telling its story in a way that keeps the pace moving. The editing is fun and light and keeps you feeling like you are being transported to the year the story is taking place in that moment. From 1996 to 2003 to 2007, the movie recreates the feeling of that year, down to the clothes and the dialogue.
Overall, BlackBerry is a genuinely good movie. Some may scoff at this movie for its subject matter. But for those who give it a chance, they will be rewarded with a compelling story, fantastic acting, and expert editing. BlackBerry is among the best movies of the year so far.