MSPIFF Reviews ~ Showing Up & Blackberry

Showing Up

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Maryann Plunkett, John Magaro, André Benjamin, James Le Gros, Judd Hirsch
Synopsis: A sculptor preparing to open a new show must balance her creative life with the daily dramas of family and friends
Thoughts: I’ll be honest, when you hear there’s a collaboration between director Kelly Reichardt and actress Michelle Williams, it doesn’t even matter what it’s about or who else is in it; you make sure you are there when it opens. The track record is there. Demonstrably funnier than previous partnerships, Showing Up marks the fourth film the duo has worked together on. While it is perhaps a bit more inert than their previous projects (which admittedly all require some measure of patience), it again demonstrates shorthand language being communicated between a filmmaker and star.

Williams is Lizzie, a tense sculptress who works with (for?) her mother at a groovy arts college in Portland and is preparing to show her latest pieces. Fraught with the kind of ordinary turmoil in her personal life that is simply culminating at the wrong time, she’s awkwardly forced out of her comfort zone at the exact time she’s trying to find her groove. Renting a room from fellow artist Jo (Hong Chao, in a delightfully self-serving turn) and interacting with the type of everyday oddballs Reichardt is so good at writing gives Lizzie the appropriately nuanced roadblocks on her path to feeling settled.

Once again, Reichardt has secured a decidedly different performance from Williams and brought out new colors in Chao. She’s also nabbed a great supporting cast, from Maryann Plunkett and Judd Hirsch as her divorced parents (both from the art world with their own hang-ups) to tiny turns by the great Amanda Plummer and Matt Molly, wonderfully funny as visiting moochers living with Hirsch. I also greatly enjoyed Reichardt featuring many young artists at the college where Lizzie works. The opportunity to see different mediums worked in/on added a lived-in authenticity to the tone. If the film wanders off course occasionally and lingers too long in the middle, it’s forgiven for finding a sweet finale that delivers an affirmation extending out into the audience.


Director: Matt Johnson
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek
Synopsis: Mike Lazaridis is a genius at computer technology and Jim Balsillie is a businessman who will do anything to make a buck. Together they created the BlackBerry, the very first smartphone that changed the way the world did business and communicated.
Thoughts: After dropping my phone in a tub of water during a pedicure while on vacation (don’t ask, long story), I needed a new one. It was 2006, and I thought I would try something different than the usual flip phone (remember, iPhone wasn’t launched until 2007), so I opted for what was then all the rage: the Blackberry. I loathed it, not just because its tiny keypad didn’t go well with my large thumbs. Back to the store it went, and I kept that Nokia phone until Apple got, and kept, my business a few years later. 

Until now, that was my only exposure to anything to do with the Blackberry brand. However, the new Canadian film named after the pioneering smartphone launched in 1999 gave me much more information to download. Co-written and directed by Matt Johnson (who also stars as co-founder Doug Fregin), it’s an entertaining audience pleaser that can’t help but feel like a solidly condensed version of a story that yearns to go deeper. Johnson wisely keeps the movie as lo-tech as possible but skimps on giving the characters any individualized personality; you won’t see fancy digital montages or dynamic camerawork…nor any revealing details on how the phone changed the personal lives of those that created it. Instead, time simply shifts forward for the business, signaled by various time stamps and costume/wig changes for the actors. 

On the topic of wigs, a curiously weird wig game is going on in Blackberry that I couldn’t 100% get on board with. The real Doug Fregin was bald, but Johnson wears a tousled Bjorn Borg monstrosity, while star Glenn Howerton’s shiny hairless crown often looks ghoulishly phony. Then there’s Jay Baruchel, who begins the film with a gray wig which shockingly morphs into a Miranda Priestly/The Devil Wears Prada coif 2/3 of the way through. It doesn’t diminish the high quality of the three men’s work (Howerton especially is dynamite). Still, Johnson and Baruchel are so far off the mark in looking like their real-life counterparts that it almost feels like they’re spoofing the subject rather than giving it heft. At two hours long, I wish Blackberry had either been longer and deeper — there’s a reason why the limited series format has served these types of tales so well.


Where to watch Showing Up

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