Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Universal Pictures & Focus Features
Directed by: Boots Riley
Written by: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer and Forest Whitaker.
Sorry to Bother You is one of the most original, bold and inventive directorial debuts from rapper Boots Riley that features a phenomenal cast, a razor smart script and a strong visual style to match. Riley has a lot to say in this darkly comedic satire which delves into capitalism, corporate oppression and racism, featuring a splattering of sci-fi for good measure. What’s brilliant about this film though is the unique and surreal story; just when you think you’ve got the movie figured out, something completely bonkers happens – completely throwing all of your expectations! So the less you know about this film going in – the better.
Originally premiering at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Sorry to Bother You is set in an alternate present-day version of Oakland and centres around telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) as he unlocks the key to corporate success by using a ‘white voice’. Just as his colleagues come together to protest for worker’s right and better working conditions, Cassius’ success with his newly acquired ‘white voice’ sees him promoted to the top floor as a ‘power seller’, leaving his colleagues (and morals) behind. The more Cassius sells for parent company WorryFree, a corporation that sells a form of 21st century slavery in return for bed and board, the more lavish his lifestyle becomes, attracting the attention of the CEO of WorryFree, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). But Cassius discovers a truly horrifying secret at the company that will change everything, leading the film into Dark Mirror (on steroids!) territory…
Lakeith Stanfield cements his status as one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, following supporting roles in Get Out and Atlanta. He excels in the transformation from being broke and down on his luck, living in his Uncle’s garage to a successful power caller who has embraced the American dream in exchange for his morals. Somehow Stanfield still makes you empathise with Cassius though, as he slowly uncovers the absurdity and ruthlessness of the corporation that he’s working for. Supporting roles include the sublime Tessa Thompson as Cassius’ mesmerising artist-activist girlfriend, Detroit, who sports some absolutely fantastic statement earrings and t-shirts, as well as an underused Steven Yeun and Danny Glover. But Armie Hammer comes pretty close to stealing the show with his hilariously over the top portrayal of the cocaine snorting, sarong wearing and genuinely awful human being, WorryFree CEO Steve Lift!
The film also features an inventive and unique visual style that’s almost reminiscent of Spike Lee’s flair, that complements the smart and commentative script. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Cassius’ desk literally crashes through the floor of the call centre into the homes of those who he’s calling. There’s also a fantastic performance from Thompson’s Detroit at an art gallery as she tries to use her artistic voice for social justice, that’s both captivating and grotesque at the same time. Intertwined in the film are also shocking snippets from popular TV gameshow ‘I Got The Shit Kicked Out of Me’, proving a bold commentary on our society’s reliance on consuming reality TV.
Sorry to Bother You is a brilliant, bonkers and surreal debut that will no doubt become the next cult classic. It’s so refreshing to see such an original concept in an industry full of sequels and remakes – this should definitely mark Riley as one to watch! But as much as I enjoyed the film, there were a lot of themes involved competing for screen time and the third act definitely enters weird territory and feels separated from the rest of the movie, which may lose audiences. But if this showing in a cinema near you, it’s definitely worth seeking it out!