In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of "powercalling" that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius' career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who's secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective
As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company's cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.
What on Earth is going on with this film? This is one hell of a drug-fuelled fever dream come to life. 'Sorry To Bother You' is an American dark comedy film, written and directed by Boots Riley in his debut feature film. It's interesting to see so many large names in a directorial debut, and yet here we are with Terry Crews, Tessa Thompson, Patton Oswalt, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, Rosaria Dawson, and Forest Whitaker all on board. I haven't seen this many big names together in a film since Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Boogie Nights'.
I'm really at a loss for words when it comes to describing this film. It starts off with a slightly realistic alternative timeline/dystopian future that is disconcertingly oppressive yet not far off from the current situation in 2019. Making use of some creative practical effects to "drop" Cassius into his role at the call centre, the film has a slightly warped fantastical element to it that leaves you both fascinated and uncomfortable at the same time. The film, however, takes a turn in the third act into a ludicrous, nonsensical farce.
The concept of the "white voice" is perhaps the most intriguing and scathing part of the whole film, and while a brilliant means of highlighting prejudices and intolerance (the issue is still very much an issue along gender lines too), Riley isn't quite able to fashion a cohesive script around it.
The trailer provides a reasonable representation in terms of the tone of the film in the first act, but the film has so many twists, tangents, and misdirections in a perversely straightforward story, that it's really difficult to gather your thoughts on. This feels like the story was written by cobbling together multiple drafts of screenwriting written by film studies students. Every scene has a plethora of absurdity that either holds metaphorical meaning or provides social commentary and the relevance of each component all comes down to the viewer's owndiscretion.
Visually, 'Sorry To Bother You' is a fun watch. Highly saturated colours, with every character having their own distinctive (almost cartoon-like), over-the-top accessories, there is so much visual stimulation that I would not be surprised to hear that copies of the props are now on sale (I'm looking at you, Tessa Thompson's constantly changing overblown earrings).
The film is so rich in satire, and moves at such a pace that it doesn't give the viewer much time to really think about what it is offering. It's refreshing, and a clearly ambitious narrative that director and writer Boots Riley had taken on, but I can't say that there is really much in the way of a payoff. 'Sorry To Bother You' derails itself on several occasions in its attempts to cover all of its themes; from black/white relations and minority prejudices to modern slavery, activism, capitalism and profiteering. There is so much going on that you the film doesn't quite end up doing any of them justice.
'Sorry To Bother You' is an off-the-wall dark comedy that aims high, and much like Icarus, soars too close to the sun and plunges back down. Still worth checking out, and could certainly lead to some great discussions about the symbology of the film. But personally, it feels like Riley couldn't figure out how to end the film, and just went for absurd artistry instead.
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"Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life - is the source from which self respect springs."
Joan Didion (1934 - ), 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem'