'BlackBerry' movie courts fans of obsolete tech, while critics dismiss 'another corporate biopic'

This image released by IFC Films shows Jay Baruchel, left, and actor-director Matt Johnson, center, with cast members on the set of "BlackBerry."
This image released by IFC Films shows Jay Baruchel, left, and actor-director Matt Johnson, center, with cast members on the set of "BlackBerry." Copyright  Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC F/AP
Copyright  Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC F/AP
By Anca UleaAP
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The tale of the rise and fall of BlackBerry, one of the first personal hand-held communication devices, has opened to mostly positive reviews.


There once was a time when phones had buttons and sending an email from a hand-held device was a revolution, not a punishment.

This quaint period of history is eternalised in the new BlackBerry film, which hit theatres on Friday. It tells the story of the Canadian nerds that created the titular device in the 1990s, how they managed to get it into the hands of every businessman worth his salt and how their booming business eventually got killed by the iPhone.

At its peak in 2009, BlackBerry’s parent company Research In Motion (RIM) owned 20 percent of the global smartphone market. But the 2010s saw its touchscreen competitors take the lead and in 2022 BlackBerry decommissioned the software supporting its classic models.

Based on the 2015 book “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, the film takes some liberties with the real-life events, but claims to be mostly based in fact.

In an interview with the Associated Press, writer, director and co-star Matt Johnson acknowledged he shifted some timelines, shaped the company culture through his own view of the 1990s and infused the key characters with “our own personalities and our own ideas.”

“But our lawyers wouldn’t let us put anything in the film that was an outright fabrication,” Johnson stressed.

A modern Canadian classic?

The film opened to mostly positive reviews, with a 97 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes after its opening weekend. It’s found fans in Hollywood, including US comedian Patton Oswalt who called it a “kinetic, hilarious (and oftentimes terrifying) thrill ride” in a congratulatory Twitter thread.

Canadians have also been hailing it as their country’s answer to the acclaimed Facebook biopic The Social Network. The film is as Canadian as they come, with a Canadian writer/director, Canadian production team and, of course, a story about a Canadian company.

BlackBerry the movie also taps into a growing sense of nostalgia over now-obsolete technology. Gen Z has been particularly drawn to digital point-and-shoot cameras from the early noughties, and some have shunned slick smartphones in favour of simpler “dumb phones”.

But not everyone is sold on the film. Some former employees who worked on BlackBerry have criticised inaccuracies in the screenplay, including early RIM employee Matthias Wandel.

After the trailer was released, Wandel posted an 18-minute long YouTube video calling out some of the creative liberties taken by filmmakers, which he deemed to be misleading. Before the film was made, he had spoken extensively to Johnson about RIM’s history and even provided diaries that he kept during the BlackBerry’s development.

“I think when he sees the film, he is going to be quite charmed by how much of his original notes are in the film,” Johnson said of Wandel. “It’s so funny that he has released that video (because) so much of my character is based on him. I stole everything from that dude. I owe him huge.”

Attack of the corporate biopics

The BlackBerry film has also caused many to wonder out loud: Why are there so many corporate biopics out these days?

On Twitter, users have pointed out the onslaught of similar narratives that look at the “story behind the product” – like Ben Affleck’s Air about Nike sneakers, Apple TV+’s Tetris, or perhaps the strangest of them all, Eva Longoria’s directorial debut Flamin’ Hot about the spicy Cheetos that turn your fingertips red.

“It’s a spicy chip, it’s gonna change everything,” you can hear Jesse Rodriguez's Richard Montañez say in the trailer.

But does every product need to change the world? And do we really need to see how every sausage is made in a 2-hour long film?

In a world where our phones no longer have buttons, ads are burned into the insides of our eyelids and emails buzz in our pockets every minute of the day, the answer is probably no.

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