Before the touchscreen there was “BlackBerry”

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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Electrifying the screen this week at Tryon Theatre is “Blackberry,” a compelling and comedic docudrama, charting the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of the BlackBerry (a mobile device), the cellular urtext for the impending smartphone era. 

“Blackberry” is energetic and engrossing, enrapturing the same senses as other technology/money films to come before it, like “The Social Network” (Sorkin 2010) or “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Scorsese 2013). The repugnant, yet magnetic personalities that compose these worlds make for a trainwreck that we watch with glee. And to its credit, “Blackberry” decisively commits to the depiction of the culminating wreck, unflinching in its portrayal of both success and failure. 

We know the story of Blackberry. The ending is not why “Blackberry” makes for an excellent film, rather it is the ride along the rise and fall that makes this a humorous portrayal of hubris and catastrophe. 

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For those readers who lived through the late 90’s and early aught’s, you will remember the cellular device market was an almost overnight explosion from the earlier days of carphones into the ubiquitous flip phone era. But amongst all these flip phones and Nokia “bricks,” there was a technological outlier, an expensive cut above, a device that stood apart from the rest, both in design and in name. This device wasn’t a cell phone, it was a BlackBerry. 

BlackBerry was the business world’s answer to the newfound immediacy of communication, a way to not only communicate instantaneously, but to do so without reduction of content or complexity, sending emails in a world of beeper messages. We, the consumer, saw a domination of a market, a brand name synonymous with a product. We saw BlackBerry climb to new heights. However, soon thereafter we witnessed the market’s response to this ascension, another cellular product promising novel performance and a brand name inseparable from the technology, the iPhone. 

Almost overnight, the BlackBerry’s prominence and dominance in the cellular world went the way of most technology, relegated to history and fleeting memory. However, like every tech product, time and passion were poured into its development, and hopes and dreams were tied to its success. For select people, BlackBerry’s success, no matter how short, was not merely a footnote in the history of cellular communications, but was a contained and complex culmination of a life’s work. “BlackBerry” tells the story of those people, as they struggle and strive, clawing their way to victory, and spectacularly crashing back down into irrelevance. The film’s two leads are brought to life by comedic actors, Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton, both turning their sharpness of humor into a sharpness of wit and character, providing well paced laughs throughout the film’s frenetic run. The film’s narrative tension is equal parts business and personality, with the competing focuses of product integrity vs profit growth personified in the clashing leadership at the helm of BlackBerry. For any filmgoers who value a propelling and compelling story, who seek their laughs with an edge, and who enjoy a well paced trainwreck, you will surely enjoy “Blackberry. ”