Release Date: July 6, 2018
Director: Boots Riley
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Boots Riley makes a striking directorial debut with his biting, satirical comedy Sorry to Bother You, an absurdist comic gem that starts off playfully odd before pushing you off a cliff with its off-the-wall weirdness.
Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green, a jobless man in an existential crisis who yearns to provide a better life for himself and his artist girlfriend, Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson. After getting a job as a telemarketer, he realizes he has a natural gift for it, thanks to a foul-mouthed Danny Glover helping him unlock his internal “white voice,” perfectly materialized by David Cross. As Cassius climbs the ranks of his new profession, he’s met with resistance from Detroit and his friends, who see him compromising his integrity as he sells himself out to a greedy corporation.
In a gleeful takedown of corporate America, Riley sharply tackles the lengths people must go through, particularly those of color, to make something of themselves in our current social and political climate. The greedy, self-serving face of evil company CEOs is expertly personified by Armie Hammer, a loud-mouthed, gun-toting monster who loves snorting ridiculously long lines of coke and bringing back slavery, albeit in a different form.
It isn’t until Hammer’s character forces Cassius to rap in front of a sea of white faces at a party (despite his insistence that he can’t rap) that he realizes that he’s just another tool being used for nefarious gains. In one of his lowest moments, he simply belts out the n-word repeatedly, causing the crowd to chant along without any hesitation as to how inappropriate it may be.
Sorry to Bother You is told through a delightfully absurdist veneer, akin to the stylings of Quentin Dupieux, but Riley keeps things more grounded, with the exception of some fantastic visual gags…until the third act when things take a turn for the weird. As much as you may think you know about this film, there is no way you’ll predict where it’s going, and while this turn is certain to lose some viewers, I say “good riddance” because it’s amazing.
The film is propelled by a fantastic soundtrack provided by Tune-Yards, something I expected with Riley’s pedigree as a musician himself, fronting The Coup, one of my gateway groups into indie hip-hop. It’s often understated but enters the forefront at just the right moments, never causing the film to feel like a music video, something I was initially a bit concerned about.
Sorry to Bother You is exactly what we need in our current timeline – a smart, pointed and hysterical “fuck you” to the powers that be that pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to confront the audience. Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson are national treasures.