Sorry to Bother You

sorry_to_bother_youSTARS4An unemployed man (Lakeith Stanfield) in his twenties is existing in an alternate reality version of modern-day Oakland, California. He’s living in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage and is 4 months behind in the rent His name is Cassius Green and the similarity of that moniker to “cash green” is intentionally ironic I’m sure. He simply wants a job. There’s an opportunity to be a telemarketer with a company called RegalView. He’s even gone so far as to bring a fake “Employee of the Month” plaque that he made himself to the job interview. The interviewer (Robert Longstreet) sees through the facade but hires him anyway because he appreciates the initiative it took to do such a thing. After he’s hired, the manager tells him to “Stick to the Script” or “S.T.T.S.” and amusingly pronounces it as if it’s an acronym. The movie’s title refers to his first line of rehearsed patter. Cassius’ happiness at attaining a job turns to despair however when he realizes how difficult it is to finish his marketing spiel before a potential client hangs up on him. Director Boots Riley has a creative spirit and this cleverness informs the entire film. These interactions are presented with his desk crashing through the floor into the homes of various people he’s calling. It was at this moment I was ready to accept whatever the filmmaker would be throwing down. And let me tell you, he assaults us with a bizarro world of absurdity.

The presentation of Cassius’ mundane workaday milieu will ring true for anyone who has ever held a job they really didn’t enjoy. I would suspect that is pretty much everyone and if that doesn’t describe you, then count your blessings. RegalView is a depressing work environment based in a dingy basement of cubicles surrounded by drab white walls. Things change however when he meets black co-worker Langston (Danny Glover). The aged associate advises him to use his “white voice” which is actually the dubbed delivery of actor David Cross. The incongruity of hearing that nasal tone coming out of the man’s body is perhaps a simple joy but it’s supremely funny nevertheless. Suddenly Cassius’ success rate with clients drastically improves.  One quibble.  Why Langston wasn’t successful at doing the exact same thing is never explained. However, we will soon discover that’s far from the most baffling enigma in this story.  Cassius gains the attention of his superiors who want to promote him up to the high-rise offices as a hallowed Power Caller.

Sorry to Bother You is bolstered by a wonderful supporting cast. His girlfriend is Detroit, an alternative artist played Tessa Thompson. Her comically oversized earrings displaying messages are a running gag throughout the picture. Unfortunately, her radical performance art, supposedly designed to “take down the system”, was completely lost on me.  How does getting pelted with water balloons filled with sheep’s blood make a point? She also condemns Cassius for affecting a false persona that she too is guilty of as well. I wanted her to acknowledge her own hypocrisy.  She doesn’t.  Back in the business realm, low-level supervisor Diana DeBauchery (Kate Berlant) is an absolute hoot. Her surname looks like “debauchery”.  “It’s pronounced DE-bau-sher-AY” she corrects. To physically get him to those high rise offices she must enter a code into the elevator buttons that look like a touch tone phone pad. The joke is extended for such a long time that it actually goes from tiresome to genius. When he gets to his new employment digs he meets Mr. Blank (Omari Hardwick) replete with an eye patch and bowler hat. He’s a black man with his own “white voice” (Patton Oswalt) that’s sort of a bridge between Cassius and the chief executive.  Cassius ultimately meets the shadowy business mogul Steve Lift played by Armie Hammer. Steve is the coke-snorting C.E.O. of a morally corrupt corporation named WorryFree.  His company is liable for questionable business practices although “questionable” doesn’t even begin to describe what they do.  I’m being vague to avoid spoilers.  As a symbol of the establishment, he is the very definition of “The Man”. This all happens at the very same time that Cassius’ peers, which include buddy Sal (Jermaine Fowler) and led by colleague Squeeze (Steven Yeun), are inciting to strike due to poor working conditions.  Does he align with his oppressed workers or assimilate into the mainstream corporate world? The drama is successful at presenting this as a conundrum to be sure, but you don’t even know the half of it.  Things get decidedly weirder after that. The political focus spins wildly out of control along with the plot developments.

This is director Boots Riley’s first feature. I predict this will change, but heretofore he’s been best known as the frontman of a radical hip-hop group known as The Coup. Their politically charged songs center around race, class, capitalism, police brutality, the proletariat, and other issues. Those topics inform the group’s biting social commentary. That point of view gently infiltrates the film’s very funny outlook but it doesn’t even begin to prepare you for the insanity that follows. The screenplay satirizes social media, race, class, poverty, television, and rap music in brilliant ways that often have different interpretations. The production is so adventurous and so gloriously bizarre that it won me over. Sorry to Bother You is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen and yet If I had to draw analogies, I could say the work of Mike Judge is a close parallel.  I found elements of both Office Space and Idiocracy in its targets. There’s also the loopiness of Michel Gondry, who is indirectly name-dropped in an absolutely disturbing claymation video. There’s an off-kilter sensibility that influences the narrative that makes this instantly feel like a cult classic that should play at midnight screenings. Despite a chaotic fantasy that careens wildly from political satire into science fiction, this movie remains fun and witty in a lively way that boldly announces its presence. Its freewheeling bonkers mentality is simply too audacious to ignore.


13 Responses to “Sorry to Bother You”

  1. Absolutely cannot wait for this. Viewing Sat and I suspect it’ll be one of my favorite movies of the year to this point.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Wilkinson Says:

    “One quibble. Why Langston wasn’t successful at doing the exact same thing is never explained.”

    Well, the implication in both the title and the idea that he can only be “successful” with a “white voice” (even if it IS that of David Cross) is that nobody wants to talk to someone who sounds like they could be black. Furthermore, as a telemarketer he is clearly not comfortable with what he’s doing, as you can tell from his voice (and who wants to talk to someone who isn’t confident in what they’re selling?). And still, he does (when we see him call in his natural voice) interrupt people during things like dinner and sex (and who wouldn’t hang up without saying anything – as someone who has worked in what are basically telemarketing positions, it’s really difficult to get ANYONE to talk to you whether you sound confident or not).

    “Unfortunately, her radical performance art, supposedly designed to “take down the system”, was completely lost on me. How does getting pelted with water balloons filled with sheep’s blood make a point?”

    Well, yes, Tessa Thompson’s character isn’t completely thought through. But I feel like, given her actions (being a graffiti artist with political leanings, being part of the walk out amongst the telemarketers, her performance art), she’s there to sort of illustrate that sometimes those “on the bottom” of the pile just wanna DO SOMETHING to shake things up. And notice that as she’s being “pelted with those water balloons” she is in fact speaking the speech from THE LAST DRAGON in a British voice dubbed by Lily James… So the message is, to be heard, everyone has to put on something of a false facade and hope they break through? Maybe?


    • Re: Langston
      Given your explanation, I’m not sure you understood my objection. I get why Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) becomes successful. I don’t understand why Langston (Danny Glover), who gave him the secret on how to get ahead, didn’t thrive in the same way. I mean I guess we’re to assume that Cassius was just better at Langston’s own game.

      Re: Detroit
      I get the idea of performance art. It’s just that hers felt inauthentic. Detroit was presented as this moral center when she really wasn’t. She was a hypocrite. She affected a fake voice and persona but then criticized Cassius for doing the same thing. Cassius mildly called her out, but I needed Detroit to acknowledge her own hypocrisy. Her character was the only person that rang false for me.


      • Eric Wilkinson Says:

        I definitely think I misread what you wrote in the first place (in my head I was thinking of Cassius, not Danny Glover)… Re: Detroit – yes she is called out on her hypocrisy, no she doesn’t ever seem to come to grips with it (at least that we see) and for that matter she calls Cassius out on his hypocrisy at some point and yet conveniently seems to forget it when he leads the rebellion in the final act

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I need to see this one as I once wrote an entire post dedicated to Lakeith Stanfield back when he did Short Term 12. Excited to see him blowing up!


  4. Very creative, funny and a bit out there. I enjoyed it. Great review. 3 1/2 stars


  5. Is it just me, or did this movie trend the way of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! toward the end there? This was such a wild ride. Loved it.


  6. Just got done seeing this movie about an hour or two ago. LOVED it. So ingenious, funny, and creative. Also: are you planning on seeing the new Mamma Mia! movie? I’m heading out to see that tomorrow.


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