April 27, 2023

SCREEN | Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton Invent 'BlackBerry' x SXSW 2023

"Why would anyone want a phone without a keyboard?"
Jay Baruchel Glenn Howerton Matt Johnson | BlackBerry
SXSW Film & TV Festival
Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson gives BlackBerry the slick tech biopic treatment (think The Social Network but Canadian) based on the book Losing the Signal about the Waterloo, Ontario-based creators of the eponymous smartphone device, Research in Motion (RIM). It's an unlikely story of total non-players outside the major consumer electronics industries somehow starting and then dominating mobile telecommunications for a brief window of time.

Starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, and Johnson himself as key figures in the telecom's improbable rise and even faster downfall, the contrasting acting styles of the trio allow all the highs and lows to seem more entertaining. They make for a dynamic ensemble cast also populated by small but key roles played mostly by American character actors recognizable from television.

Howerton, in particular, sheds his usual dirtbag comedic instincts for a dry, almost sociopathic all-business shark approach to his performances as the NHL-obsessed RIM Co-CEO Jim Balsillie. Baruchel is the true heart of the film as RIM co-founder Mike Lazaridis. The latter plays up the altruistic engineer more interested in making innovative products over money before he's ultimately corrupted by the former.

Johnson's fairly brisk yet economical script co-written with Matthew Miller races through BlackBerry's history through key cultural and technological moments in the '90s and 2000s while crisscrossing the east coast as RIM fades away just as quickly as it dominated the smartphone market it ultimately created. Johnson injects his wryly comic tone into the high-stakes boardroom drama anchored by some fine lead performances from Baruchel and Howerton.

BlackBerry screened at the 2023 South by Southwest Film & TV Festival (Austin) as part of the Narrative Spotlight section. It also screened at the VIFF Centre. It will be available to stream as a three-part miniseries on CBC Gem in Canada (and AMC+ in the U.S.) starting November 9th.


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