Sorry To Bother You (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
See it. If you are at all interested in this movie, see it now.
Boots Riley’s talent is unmistakable and his feature-film debut is a free-wheeling, but intensely focused, look at a number of issues existing within society, for not just the African-American community, but society as a whole.
By the end, this may be the strangest and most daring mainstream film we will see in 2018. Expertly acted, curiously constructed, Sorry To Bother You is unlike anything you have seen before. And you’ll be thinking and talking about it once the credits arrive.
By the end, this may be the strangest and most daring mainstream film we will see in 2018.
The film covers a lot of ground, becoming something far, far different than what we initially expect. When the film takes the final of a few different twists and turns, it absolutely runs the risk of alienating patient viewers.
Sorry To Bother You makes no apologies. If you are unable to allow yourself to exist in the world it is creating for you, there’s nothing much more I can say or do here.
Boots Riley’s blistering feature-film debut, Sorry To Bother You, comes from a life well-lived; rich with long-simmering, intuitive observation, and deep-rooted, lived-in experiences. As a result, Riley has delivered one of 2018’s most controversial and polarizing films, but also one of its best.
Built on a foundation of comedic science-fiction, only to then blow the doors off the theater (and probably our minds) with a jaw-dropping third act, the final minutes of this film will either push you out the door, keep you at an arm’s length, or draw you closer in to the message.
Guaranteed - you will be talking about this and thinking about this movie for a long, long time.
With what initially feels like a satirical depiction of modern-day Oakland, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) has just landed a telemarketing job with RegalView, and is struggling to sell encyclopedias and other items to an almost exclusively-white clientele. After weeks of frustration, he lands the advice of the kind-hearted veteran salesperson Langston (Danny Glover), who instructs Cassius to use his “white voice.” Almost immediately, he begins charting sales numbers through the roof.
Eager to move out of his Uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage, and build a life with girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), Cassius’ newfound success opens doors for him. He is teased with becoming a “Power Caller,” a mysterious and secretive promotion no one truly knows anything about. And as his fortunes begin to rise, and management develops a keen interest in him, co-worker Squeeze (Steven Yeun) is leading something of a worker’s uprising, attempting to unionize and push back against poor wages and even less desirable working conditions on the RegalView sales floor.
Riley’s film could swim merely in these waters and be just fine. However, true to his nature, he goes further. Sorry To Bother You is not just about Cassius’ rise in Corporate America. Rather, Riley gives each supporting character a platform to provide perspectives and provide a voice we seldom are able to hear in an increasingly agitated discourse and collective conversation.
Straddling the line between caricature and three-dimensional characters, Riley gives us the absurd and the humane. Cassius begins to work for a manager whose last name is constantly bleeped (Omari Hardwick). Detroit is a performance artist, perpetually unsettled, and seeks something more in her life - on a journey of not only self-discovery, but also to have her complicated views of the world articulated through her performance art. Squeeze has an agenda perhaps, but he seemingly wants a better way for himself and his colleagues and peers. Langston serves as Cassius’ conscience when he starts to become seduced into a high-salaried lifestyle.
And then we have Armie Hammer’s performance as Steve Lift, the cocaine-addled, sarong wearing CEO of WorryFree, a company who has created a community where all bills, food, and lodging are paid for, as long as the inhabitants work for the duration of their lifetime. Hammer is unhinged, a consumer in every shape of the word, and his story line dovetails, in the most inexplicable of ways, with Cassius’ journey from the phone bank to the corporate boardroom.
All these performances crackle with energy and excitement. Hammer’s over-the-top shenanigans somehow fit, juxtaposed to the laid back drive and desire Stanfield puts into his role. Thompson is spirited and pure energy, likable, even with her obnoxious placard-style earrings and precocious nature. The voiceover performances, specifically from David Cross (as Cassius’ white voice) and Patton Oswalt (as Mr [Blank]’s white voice) strike the right chord of naiveté and vulnerability.
This is unlike anything you will see in this or any year. In my notes, I wrote that Sorry To Bother You was a cousin to Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out, and an estranged sibling to Spike Lee’s incendiary 1989 classic Do The Right Thing. Honestly, I think those are lazy comparisons, as I, like many, found myself trying to categorize and compartmentalize something that truly defies such limitations.
Where you start and where you end up could not be more diametrically opposed, in terms of the world the film creates for its viewers. And yet…Sorry To Bother You makes all the sense in the world, as it increasingly feels like it might be making no sense at all.
Riley attacks stereotypes throughout the film, and in several scenes, the film feels like it is analyzing us as we analyze it. Count me among those who openly celebrate this film, while admitting that not everything works here like perhaps Riley was intending.
But life can be messy, haphazard, and unrelenting, similar to the ways Sorry To Bother You makes very direct and pointed observations. The film elicited gasps and more than a few audible “WTF?” reactions in my theater. However, through all the fantastical places Sorry To Bother You takes us, in the end, this is a film about fairness. About integration. About classism and capitalism. About banding together to lock arms for a greater good and purpose. Astutely, Riley shows us that tolerance is not enough, and merely tolerating something does not give rise to accepting something, or someone, for who or what it truly is.
As we departed the theater, my wife and I had close to an hour-long conversation about Sorry To Bother You, and have had a few discussions in the days since we left the theater. We tried to see the world through Riley’s prism, asking some interesting questions about the symbolic and direct commentary we had just experienced, and where this all fits within a world of increasing toxicity, ugliness, and singularity.
I cannot promise that you will like this. I certainly cannot promise that you will understand everything it is trying to tell you.
What I can tell you is that Sorry To Bother You is a strange, unique powder keg for our times - a detonation that forces us to question ourselves, our world, and answer for ourselves whether or not, when it comes to making things positive and good for those around us, are we leaders, followers, or some hybrid creature stuck in between.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews, Kate Berlant, Michael X. Sommers, David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Lily James, Forest Whitaker, Rosario Dawson.
Director: Boots Riley
Written by: Boots Riley
Release Date: July 6, 2018