Sorry to Bother You
Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Every once in a great while there is a movie so different, so entertaining, so creative, so unrestrained, so willing to go to any length to make its points that it feels like a review will not do it justice. Sorry to Bother You, a surrealistic dark comedy/vicious social and political satire, is that kind of film. It is difficult to describe the experience of watching it without giving anything away, but I will try. It is smart, observant, absurdist and hilarious. It is extremely well written, acted, directed and edited. It is not perfect, but its flaws highlight just how good it really is as well as how few chances most movies actually take. It may or may not win awards, though it does seem destined for long lasting cult popularity.
Vaguely, Sorry to Bother You is about Cassius Green, a broke young black man living in his Uncle’s garage. He gets a job as a telemarketer and soon discovers he can easily make sales if he uses his white voice (overdubbed by a white actor). This leads him up the ladder of success and into some crazy stuff you should really see for yourself.
The writer/director is Boots Riley, making his debut in both areas. He began writing the screenplay in 2011, then spent the next six years trying to get it made. You can sense the passion he has for this project in every frame. The truly amazing thing is, especially when you consider how risky and provocative a lot of this material is, how rarely he steps wrong. His world and its characters are realized so completely that even the craziest events have an internal logic to them. It never felt like Riley went too far. He was always in control of what he wanted his film to be. That is extra impressive since he had no prior experience as a filmmaker.
He does not overstate his points, either with dialogue, editing choices or directorial flourishes. I definitely would not call Sorry to Bother You subtle, but then satire generally is not. Riley’s film touches on gender, race, class and the way corporations abuse their labor, among many, many different issues. He has a lot to say, but it never feels forced because he stays focused on his story which happens to be very entertaining and very funny.
Also assisting is the ridiculously talented and fully committed cast he assembled. Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius, Tessa Thompson is his radical artist girlfriend, Jermiane Fowler is his best friend, Omari Hardwick plays a successful telemarketer, Steven Yeun and Danny Glover are co-workers, Armie Hammer is absolutely hysterical as the obnoxious owner of a massive corporation, and David Cross and Patton Oswalt are perfectly cast as the white voices of the Stanfield and Hardwick characters. There is even more than that, but I do not want to give away the surprises.
Stanfield is fantastic in the lead. He has a difficult challenge trying to guide the audience through this insanity while still being a part of it and he pulls that off admirably. He is likable, funny and plays his role like he has no idea he is in a bizarre comedy. Tessa Thompson is also quite good as the rebellious Detroit (her explanation for why she was named that is one of the best lines in the movie). She brings a romantic element into the story, as well as a socially conscious one.
Nearly everything here is a good choice. Boots Riley throws so much at the wall and it is pretty incredible how much of it sticks. Most satires feel like they were made out of anger. This one feels like it was made out of hopefulness.
Sorry to Bother You (105 minutes without the final credits) really is unlike anything I have seen. It is original, endlessly captivating and very thought-provoking. It announces a new voice and works as a brilliant showcase for a couple of actors who should be on their way to being stars. I do not know if this will end up as one of the best movies of the year (though it is unquestionably going to be in the conversation), but it will almost certainly end up among the most important. This is a remarkable film.
4¾ out of 5
Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green
Tessa Thompson as Detroit
Jermaine Fowler as Salvador
Omari Hardwick as Mr. _______
Armie Hammer as Steve Lift
Terry Crews as Sergio
Danny Glover as Langston
Steven Yeun as Squeeze
David Cross as Cassius’s White Voice
Patton Oswalt as Mr. _______’s White Voice
Written and Directed by Boots Riley