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Review: "Sorry to Bother You"

by Chris Feil

If you think that the summer movie season is winding down into boredom, Boots Riley has a debut feature to knock you off your ass. Sorry to Bother You, his Sundance breakout, is audacious filmmaking of the rarest order. Already tailor made to stir the midnight movie circuit back to life, the film is a sledgehammer to convention, taste, and politeness to make the likes of John Waters and even Jodorowsky proud.

With such wild territory, part of the thrill of the film is taking its bumps as its concept goes ever so slightly off the rails. But with this first film, Riley has delivered something delightfully convincing with complete confidence even when the film strays into the deeply strange...

Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius “Cash” Green, an introverted guy who has taken a new position as an entry level telemarketer for the grungy corporation Regalview. His struggles to land sale and the resulting commissions find an instant turnaround when he adopts a white voice to handle his clients and management. Meanwhile his artist girlfriend Detroit (the ever slyly genius Tessa Thompson) and his fellow coworkers begin a revolt to unionize against the company. But Cash’s facade is just the first compromise into increasingly immoral layers of assimilation, as he quickly moves up the Regalview’s ranks and attracts the attention of the head of an evil, enslaving corporation, Armie Hammer’s sleazeball Steve Lift.

Sorry to Bother You is both incredibly silly and scathingly wise, at time pushing its satire to outright science fiction. At the heart of its treatise on racial and economic inequity in America is a rage for both the evil, exploitive corporate apparatus and the farce of contemporary consumption of information. Riley is at his most gutsy when examining the embedded racism of proprietary systems and how they turn abuse and suffering into consumable content. Systemic social bankruptcy is its primary target and the film posits authenticity as the primary method to combat it.

The film deserves to be admired for the wide reach of its insights, even if it sometimes sacrifices cohesion for the sake of fitting it all in its zippy package. It is playful when it bites, with whimsically fascinating costuming and an electro-drab visual identity all its own. But major laughs come from how the film relishes its own brand of oddness, and Riley’s assured comedic maneuvering keeps the film’s sequences from delving into sketch territory. Sorry to Bother You’s highs are quite thrillingly unlike anything else in theatres this year.

And still its heart is humane when examining Cash’s inner conflict with submission and the stakes behind his struggle. Riley is partly blessed to have such an impressive ensemble to add dimension to some of the thinner characterizations his script sometimes provides. Stanfield is a compelling everyman but approaches the film’s turns with specifity for a performance of complex physicality. Thompson relishes the sexually empowered and straight-shooting Detroit, a woman we’d desperately love to see outside of the film’s predominantly male perspective. And Hammer, snorting lines of cocaine the length of a city block, gets to indulge his wacko all-in character actor instincts that his leading man roles rarely afford.

Its high-concept satire may not land every bizarre flourish it skyrockets at us, but Sorry to Bother You’s wit is both profound and satisfyingly off-the-wall. As the world continues to reveal the depths of its evils, Boots Riley has arrived to break some rules and find inventive ways to stir up some hearty laughs. It’s engineered to incite strong reactions and befuddlement, but it is an unmissable piece of provocative entertainment.

Grade: B

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Reader Comments (15)

Is there a still or moving frame in which Tessa Thompson and LaKeith Stanfield do not expose their intensity and power. Such expressive faces and deep talent.

I've just started hearing about this (out of the US) and greatly appreciate this review. It makes me think this is a must-see, which now that I know the headliners, should have been a no-brainer. So thankful that Thompson and Stanfield are getting the lead roles their talents deserve (or, at least, a start in that direction).

July 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

So looking forward to seeing this.

July 14, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Loved this, but was kind of disappointed by how little Tessa Thompson actually got to do. She's a memorable presence, but that character just drifts in and out of scenes, and the "girlfriend as voice of your conscience" trope is tired. I don't want to ask the film to be about something its not - there's already a lot of ideas at work here - but it's disappointing that women don't factor into its vision more.

July 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I saw this today and thought the first hour was very interesting but once the movie goes bonkers in the second hour I could not wait for it to be over.

July 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I agree with Dave S. And we've seen Thompson as the assertive, no-nonsense girlfriend too many times by now. The film also seems equivocal about its attitude toward her, sometimes treating her like a righteous activist and voice of reason and at others mocking her more radical leftist tendencies.

But I really like the film. And dare I say this is Armie Hammer's best performance yet?

July 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I knew the movie was weird, but then it got REALLY WEIRD. I honestly wasn't prepared for that.

Also... more people should be talking more about Steven Yeun. I didn't see him at all in any of the marketing, but HOT DAMN he was great.

July 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

The problem is that the "weirdness" comes out of left field- perhaps the intention was to do another "Get Out" but that movie is so perfectly written than when the sci-fi horror element is introduced it's shocking but makes perfect sense. Yeah I don't get the abuse of Thomsom during the art show- she seemed to strong to place herself in that position even for her art.

July 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

For me, this was the “Mad TV” version of “Get Out.”

July 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Comparing this movie to Get Out is a reductive response. Sorry to Bother You is a gonzo picture. All about its heightened anarchy.

July 15, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

This reminded me more of movies like "Putney Swope" or "Little Murders".

July 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

It’s just not very good.

July 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJF

This is more like a surreal comedy than "Get Out"

July 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I was completely unprepared for how flat-out bizarre this movie is. I don't think I've seen anything quite like it, and I'm so happy it exists. I was certainly never bored, and even though it went flying madly off the rails... that was kind of the point? And it was so much fun to hear the nearly full audience (on a Monday evening!) react to everything.

July 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Totally agree about Thompson. She's great, but I wish the film a) had more women and b) wrote them better.

But otherwise I loved it. And the sci-fi plot twist was somehow both bizarre and shocking but also not. The movie shows you it's not playing by the rules from the beginning (dropping Cash' work desk into people's homes when he calls them) and throughout (the "white" voices). The twist definitely kicks it up about 100 notches but we already knew we were watching a gonzo film anyway.

July 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

The relation to the Annunaki is bizarre.. look in to the Annunaki and the pieces of the movie will all come together.

November 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRiley

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