Sorry to Bother You is an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction.
(EDITORS NOTE: This is a repost from the blog Just Joia Shootin the Sh*t)According to writer and director Boots Riley, “Sorry to Bother You is an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction inspired by the world of telemarketing.
Cassius Green is a black telemarketer with self-esteem issues and existential angst who discovers a magical way to make his voice sound like it’s overdubbed by a white actor. This catapults him up the ladder of telemarketing success, to the upper echelon of telemarketers, who sell weapons of mass destruction and slave labor via cold calling. In order to do this, he has to betray his friends who are organizing a telemarketers’ union.”
SPOILER FREE REVIEW
I was fortunate enough to catch an early screening of this film during its college tour at UCLA, organized and hosted by Shana Redmond, Associate Professor, Musicology, in the Department of African American Studies, in conjunction with Annapurna Pictures (The Phantom Thread), including a Skype Q&A with Boots Riley after the film. I was interested to hear the story of how the film was written and how it came to be. Already a fan of his music with The Coup, Shana Redmond met Boots Riley at Sundance in 2015 and encouraged him to apply for the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab, which he did and was accepted. The rest, as they say, is history.
I went into the screening completely unaware of Boots Riley and his music. Shana Redmond suggested the audience in attendence to check out The Coup, and I did. The Coup is a hip-hop band out of Oakland California, but they take their influences from several genres and Boots Riley seems to enjoy abstaining from picking a specific genre to sink into. This film is equally unique and he stays true to himself and his previous art. That being said, the film takes a turn where it becomes completely insane and your jaw is left on the floor and you’re feeling a little uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, there are several shots and scenes that SHOULD make anyone uncomfortable.
The film starts out normal enough. Cassius Green, played by Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out & Atlanta) is canoodling with his rainbow haired artist, sign spinner, and activist girlfriend Detroit played by Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok & Westworld) in his bed until they are interrupted by his wall (the garage door) opening to reveal a street full of pedestrians and neighbors gawking at them. It is revealed that he owes his landlord and uncle played by Terry Crews 4 months of back rent. Desperate to earn money to pay back his uncle and ultimately save his home, he applies for a job at a telemarketing firm who reportedly hires anyone.
While it seems to take place in current day Oakland, there are several key details that illustrate it’s not the reality we know. We see commercials in the background for a company that offers “lifetime contracts” where you can live, eat, and work all in the same place. The company weirdly mimics Americas prisons for profit, only these seem to be voluntary and the commercials make it seem like it’s a good idea.
Cassius aka Cash easily gains employment but has issues closing deals. His coworker in the neighboring cubicle played by Danny Glover lets him in on a little secret, if he uses his “white voice” he will have a higher success rate. In the mean time, he also makes friends with coworker Squeeze, played by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) who is attempting to orchestrate a huge strike in hopes to unionize. Just when the telemarketers stand up to their management and begin to strike, Cash is offered a promotion. He is faced with the choice between crossing the picket lines and continuing to work for the company or join his friends in unionizing. Cash chooses to accept the promotion. Watch the trailer below:
Crossing the picket line is no easy feat for the “power callers” and a team of security guards donning riot gear brutally cuts through the protesting crowd. Cash is faced with the consequences of betraying his friends and coworkers, yet he continues to work for the parent company, which is lo and behold, the same company from the commercials! As it turns out, his job is to sell workers we see in the commercials to different companies and establishments as free (read slave) labor.
As he rises to the top in his field, he is invited to the head of the company’s home to discuss his position in the company. Armie Hammer is Steve Lift, the CEO of this “volunteer prison” who feels like everything he does is for the greater good. It is at this point where the film takes a turn towards the wacky. Stemming from a raging coke fueled orgy, Sorry to Bother You goes into a turn of events that rivals the film Mother! in its lunacy. Sorry to Bother You takes some whimsical twists and turns that make you confused, uncomfortable, and question everything.
Coming off the success of both Get Out and Atlanta, Lakeith Stanfield does an excellent job portraying Cash. Throughout the film we are unable to discern what he’s going to do next until he actually makes the move. We want him to succeed, but not at the expense of losing the respect of his friends, family, and loved ones.
Tessa Thompson, his love interest is often disappointed with his choices as she lights up the screen in every scene she shares with him. Her laser cut earrings have their own not-so-subtle messages that are spotlighted every time we see her including; “Murder Murder Murder & Kill Kill Kill” and “Tell Homeland Security & We Are The Bomb”
I really enjoyed this film. Boots Riley is so punk rock in both his music and his filmmaking and I loved it. The zaniness of the film never impedes the overall message. It’s important to go into it with an open mind and be prepared to feel a little uncomfortable. I love anything that takes me out of my comfort zone and this film takes us far from reality as it also teaches us to pay attention to the world around us.
Annapurna Pictures acquired the movie at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, saying in its official statement, “We f—ing love this movie.”
Forrest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi of Significant Productions produced the film with Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, George Rush, and “Fences” producer Charles D. King.
Sorry to Bother You hits theaters on July 6, 2018.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joia DaVida is a Jersey girl at heart, but after living in Southern Florida for over 20 years, packed up her two brilliant and beautiful daughters and road tripped across America to relocate in LA, California. Now she’s living life to it’s fullest, enjoying everything Los Angeles has to offer – including CBM and genre films. Follow her blog here.