Sorry to Bother You Review

To blend in or stick out; to speak up against injustice or ignore it; to prioritize one’s self or put the needs of the community ahead of our own — these are choices we make every day with little thought to the consequences. But Boots Riley makes us think long and hard about them in his feature film debut, “Sorry to Bother You,” an edgy satire with a tone that would aptly be described as bonkers if it didn’t have such searing truth behind it.

Representing the everyman is Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who lives in his uncle’s garage and manages to land a job as a telemarketer. There he discovers how to use his “white voice” (David Cross) to win the favor of his bosses and climb the company’s ranks, even as his friends and coworkers try to unionize and even though his girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) is actively part of a resistance movement.

Taking place in what can best be described as a dystopian Oakland in the ‘90s, “Sorry to Bother You” loosely constructs a society in which there’s a vast rift between the wealthy/privileged and everyone else, and a super-corporation named WorryFree allows people to voluntarily indenture themselves on a lifetime contract so they don’t have to worry about meeting basic needs. Riley’s world isn’t as elaborate or intricately devised as a full-blown science-fiction story, but it serves as a fitting caricature of the world we live in — like he’s holding up a funhouse mirror to society.

In terms of its satirical lens, “Sorry to Bother You” looks a lot like Mike Judge’s 2006 cult comedy “Idiocracy,” which maybe not-so-coincidentally also features Terry Crews in a supporting role. Both films depict humanity as inept and opiated, except “Sorry to Bother You” also contains powerful racial overtones. Not only does Cassius (nicknamed “Cash”) reckon with decisions to advance his class status at the expense of others, but he also does so knowing his path to success (using his “white voice”) comes with forsaking his blackness.

If film protagonists are meant to be the audience’s surrogate in a story, Cash is an ideal example, and much of that credit goes to Stanfield. He plays Cash stooped over, quiet and considerate, someone with a conscious – someone beat down by the system who we can clearly root for. Then the script takes over, presenting Cash with various scenarios in which we really can’t blame him for siding with his own self-interests; if we look deep within ourselves, we know we truly can’t say for certain we wouldn’t make a lot of the same choices.

The consequences Cash endures and how he navigates them is where Riley gets sharply poignant. Even as the film’s weird factor increases and it remains kind of messy, the mechanics of the satire help to keep it on the rails. Everything that happens serves to inform us that there are stakes when we make certain choices and how even making the right choice comes with great difficulty. It is always easier to conform and perpetuate systems of oppression than it is to tear them down.

Unconventional, ballsy and yet keenly focused on many of the uncomfortable truths that underpin our society, “Sorry to Bother You” does for 2018 what “Get Out” did for 2017. The latter might be a little more accessible/operate in a genre space more audiences are familiar, but the former is arguably more creative and smarter.

 

4.5/5 Stars

 

Sorry to Bother You
Written and Directed by Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer, Danny Glover

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