BlackBerry (2023)

Elevation Pictures
CAPSULE REVIEW (500 words or less)

I’m really starting to enjoy this niche genre of films that satirizes the tech industry. While there is no bigger fan of David Fincher’s brilliant The Social Network, even I must admit that the joy I found watching Mike Judge’s cringe comedy masterpiece HBO series Silicon Valley did, in the end, surpass the societal ponderousness of Fincher’s zeitgeist monument to tech’s ascendance, if for no other reason than I really needed it to. I am just Gen X enough to remember that life did exist before iPhones and even computers, but can appreciate all that technology has done in the past twenty-five years to improve our lives—but also to make them much, much more stressful, dangerous and chaotic. So, when I have the chance to hear how the merging of tech and arrogance led to some douchebag’s downfall, I am all in. And there is no better installment in the downfall-of-the-douchebag-tech-bro genre than BlackBerry, a film by Matt Johnson.

BlackBerry is satire at its best, because it just lets the characters and the story breathe their own air, the comedy flowing naturally from the characters and their obliviousness to their own ridiculousness. The initial story is a very familiar one, that of Mike and Doug, two genius nerds, played by Jay Baruchel and Johnson, who, in 1999, invent the world’s first smartphone—at least in theory. It takes Harvard-educated businessman Jim, played by Glenn Howerton, to turn Mike and Doug’s idea into a business, which becomes BlackBerry. BlackBerry’s massive success, which came right before the advent of Steve Jobs’ game-changing iPhone, is short-lived, not just because of Apple, but because Mike, Doug and Jim are, well, total idiots.

But it’s not the all-book-smarts-no-street-smarts that get Mike and Doug is trouble, it’s their getting in bed with Jim that dooms them, and this is where BlackBerry mines its own unique diamond. The story of a mild-mannered genius inventing something amazing has been done before, but what I’ve never seen before is the story of a mild-mannered genius being literally steamrolled by a cocky, arrogant douchebag who is so extreme and perpetually screaming, he is a heart attack waiting to happen. And it is in Glenn Howerton’s over-the-top portrayal of Jim that BlackBerry soars above everything else you’ve seen in this genre, and catapults BlackBerry into the satirical stratosphere.

Howerton, best-known for starring in the long-running television show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, absolutely nails it, making the audience both loathe and love Jim for his bull-in-a-china-shop behavior, literally destroying everything in his path, both organic and not. But it’s not just Jim’s outsized personality and his contrast with Doug and Jim’s meekness, it’s how Howerton plays Jim as perpetually pissed off, whether he’s pouring a cup of coffee, walking down a hallway or negotiating with a giant phone company, he is angry all the time. And it is cringe comedy at its best.

BlackBerry makes a good double feature with Dumb Money, another big-tech-gone-bust movie from earlier in 2023. Keep ‘em coming!

BlackBerry is available to stream on Prime Video.