“Sorry to Bother You”- Movie Review
We hear the argument constantly: Hollywood has nothing original to offer anymore! All we get are remakes and reboots and sequels! As tedious as the debate is, I tend to agree. Hollywood is playing it safe. The industry would rather continue to bank on people’s nostalgia and stick to old properties rather than take a chance on fresh material (not counting adaptations from books or comics). Though it’s important to know this isn’t always the case. There are plenty of writers and filmmakers with new ideas swimming around in their heads. But once their films hit theaters, they seem to be ignored. And that’s a shame, because many of them, including the subject of today’s review, Sorry to Bother You, have a boisterous voice that’s demanding to be heard.
Lakieth Stanfield stars as Cassius Greene, a young man who lives with his eccentric artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) in his uncle’s garage in Oakland, California. The only job he’s able to land is a crummy telemarketing job at a shady company called RegalView. When he has trouble making sales, a seasoned co-worker of his, Langston (Danny Glover) suggests he use his “white voice”, a very laid-back accent that exudes the utmost confidence (and whiteness). Cassius heeds the advice, and low and behold, he’s a natural. Soon enough he’s blowing through customers and making sale after sale after sale. The massive success launches Cassius up the corporate ladder, and along the way he faces various degrees of success and insanity.
Sorry to Bother You is a balls-to-the-wall comedy that falls flat in terms of laughs, but makes up for it by crafting a distinct identity. Anyone going into this movie should know that the film takes place in a kind of alternate reality, one in which the characters acknowledge the absurdity going on around them with a quasi-normalized attitude. They’re taken aback by certain events for sure. I mean you would be too if you saw some of the things that show up in this movie. At the same time, however, they act as though it’s plausible that these things are happening in this environment.
Writer and director Boots Riley has a lot to say- whether it be about slavery, black success in America, capitalism, the working class, social behavior, or radical activism- and it’s clear he’s having a blast while saying it. The film is filled with social commentary. For the most part, it’s addressed in a clever and creative way. Whenever Cassius snags a customer, for example, the ground around him shakes and he literally drops through the floor and into the room of the person he’s talking to. Another funny bit appears in a background. All the TVs are playing reruns of a game-show in which people allow themselves to be beaten and humiliated just to win a prize. Stuff like this helps give the film a distinctive personality. Certain aspects feel a touch forced, like some of the imagery and a recurring joke where a character’s name is constantly bleeped out whenever it’s vocalized. But it never borders on pretentiousness.
The actors do a fantastic job carrying this film. Lakieth Stanfield, who I’ve loved since Short Term 12, is once again outstanding. Tessa Thompson is fantastic, as well as Danny Glover and Steven Yeun from Walking Dead fame. Armie Hammer is deliciously douchey as Steve Lift, the owner of a controversial company that may or may not be promoting a slavery-esque labor force. Everyone gives one hundred percent to their roles, and their performances complement the tone the film is shooting for.
The story takes a hard right turn in the third act, propelling the rest of the movie into a whole different stratosphere of surreal. If you haven’t already bought into the weirdness by the time the twist happens, you’ll probably wind up not liking this movie. Personally, I’m on the fence about it. On the one hand, I felt the pace was getting a little too slow, and when the twist happened it was like I’d done a line of cocaine and was suddenly tripping out. It ‘woke me up’ so to speak. At the same time, though, while I understood what it represented, it was a little too out there for me.
Sorry to Bother You is not what you’d expect. It’s the type of film that I can see people loving and hating. It’s an impressive debut, and I’m interested to see what projects Boots Riley has in store for the future. Although the humor and certain aspects of its surrealist nature don’t always work, the style, the tone, and the performances make it stand out in a good way.
Cosmic Grade: 3.8/5 Stars