by Charles Kirkland Jr.
Boots Riley of The Coup writes and directs social satire in his first feature, Sorry to Bother You.
Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) needs a job. He lives in his uncle’s garage and is four months behind on paying the rent. So when he gets hired as a telemarketer he believes things are about to turn around. Unfortunately, Cassius quickly learns that calling people to sell encyclopedias is much harder than he thought. That is until his cubicle neighbor Langston (Danny Glover) teaches him how to use his “white voice.” Once Green harnesses the power of the voice, he starts selling and is propelled into the ranks of the “Power Caller” which promotes him to the upper levels of the company. While his promotion rankles his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), buddy Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) and co-worker, Squeeze (Steven Yeun), it affords him the ability to save his uncle’s home, purchase a working car and get out of the garage. As Green becomes more successful, he is pulled into a reality where he discovers his friends were more correct about the company than he could ever believe.
Sorry To Bother You is a ridiculously funny social satire that delves headlong into topics of social structure, union labor, slavery and racism among others. The setting is Oakland in a mean, violent and aggressive alternate universe where the nation’s number one television program is a show where a person gets the crap kicked out of them and the top viral video becomes one of Cassius getting their head busted with a soda can. There are activists call “Left Eyes” who wear eyeblack under their left eye (like the former TLC singer Lisa Lopes) and rail against the Worry Free corporation who house and feed people in exchange for their labor (in facilities that look like prisons). It’s a cruel world that at times reflects the world in which we live which is the point in satires.
Writer and director Boots Riley’s ambition is incredible. He pens a story that starts as an episode of Black Mirror and gallops into The Outer Limits. Nothing about the movie is subtle. Every joke is hammered onto the audience along with every piece of commentary. There are parts of the film that are very easy to watch and others including with a scene where the protagonist is forced to rap that is just incredibly painful. Yet when the movie turns on its third and final act, it travels into a realm of incredulity that actually distracts from all the setup in the prior acts. All the social commentary is gone by this time and the movie becomes disturbing, comical and ridiculous.
Also incredible is the talent that Riley has assembled for this film. Stanfield (Atlanta, Get Out) stars as the everyman who is trying to find his place in the world with sincerity and relevance. Tessa Thompson is dangerously close to typecasting as she plays the militant girlfriend with power. Then there is the aforementioned Danny Glover, Terry Crews (Uncle Sergio), Omari Hardwick (the head of the Power Callers) and Armie Hammer (Mr. Lift, president of Worry Free) and don’t forget the voice over talents of David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Lily James and Forest Whitaker. The cast is an extremely talented and experienced group that Riley uses well and is an extreme blessing for a first-time filmmaker.
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use (somehow violence was not mentioned in the rating), Sorry To Bother You is a biting and angry political farce about the harshness of life and the evil extent to which companies will manipulate their workers for the sake of production. It is a strong, creative outing for Boots Riley that harkens to some of the early work of the great Spike Lee.
Initially, it is a lighthearted and enjoyable comedy but it morphs into a harsh and unflinching assault upon sense and sensibilities that leaves the audience very bothered.