Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures
“Sorry to Bother You” is guaranteed to become a cult sensation.
A racially charged, political satire about what it takes to 'stay woke' while chasing the American dream. Specifically, African-Americans chasing the 'dream' in a white-dominated workforce. Hip-hop artist turned director Boots Riley has truly delivered a bonkers of a film. In his directorial debut no less, he manages to straddle the line between an offbeat-alternate reality and total and complete insanity. He works overtime to make sure this movie stays in your brain long after its over.
Landing in theaters one year after Jordan Peele made his statement with “Get Out,” Riley never takes those ideas, but runs with his own wacky agenda as we meet Cassius Green (pronounced “Cash is Green”) trying to land a smug job at a telemarketing firm in Oakland, California. Coincidentally, “Get Out's” Lakeith Stanfield is Green, and with him brings a firmness and go-getter attitude to Cassius, and with Riley's creative universe in his rearview, Stanfield shines in his best role to date (no disrespect to “Get Out.”)
Cash is able to land the job even though he lied on his resume, but since telemarketing isn't anyone's first pick for a career path, they hire literally anybody; plus he's got “Initiative” and “can read.” Green is a flailing millennial living in his uncle's (Terry Crews sporting a thick head of hair) garage with his artist-activist girlfriend Detroit: (a pink-haired Tessa Thompson) a free spirit of sorts, that takes her paintings and moral stance seriously. She's the anchor to Cash's wild antics, and brings warmth to many of her scenes between the two, even when their “apartment” door springs open unexpectedly.
Once he gets to work attempting to make ends meet, Cash quickly finds out that his pay is solely based on commission. And so, Cash needs to make the calls, in which Riley employes a terrific framing device to help show the intrusiveness of telemarking, literally, as Green is transported into the caller's home, talking to them as though he's sitting down right next to them. It's odd, because he's black and their white, not to mention some folks are in the middle of an afternoon quickie (not a good time to sell an encyclopedia). Perhaps his days of calling random strangers and “sticking to the script” are behind him.
But solace is found in the form of an old timer named Langston (Danny Glover) who tells Cash he needs to use his “white voice” to sell the products (“We've all got one.”) And before we know it, and with the help of some killer sound mixing, Cash uses his “white voice” and – poof – David Cross's pipes come out the other end. And our comrade quickly asserts himself as a top dog among his disgruntled peers.
In the background, Riley's script allows other subplots to pull through: which revolves around a fella named Squeeze (“Walking Dead's” Steven Yuen) trying to unionize the other telemarketers for the purpose of equal pay and benefits. And it won't take you long to point out Armie Hammer (the perfect white bad guy) as the CEO of a company ironically called “WorryFree,” a conglomerate that utilizes Cash's company for monetary, abiet, morally unethical gain.
Even though his co-workers are on strike, Cash has been promoted to “power caller” is given a hefty salary and basically sells cheap slave labor to companies like “WorryFree” for tens of millions of dollars. Some of these subplots become a bit much once the second act shifts into gear, and it shows that Riley is truly aiming for the fences, as the guy throws so much at the screen in terms of creative lunacy that, more often than not, the stylish approach to its plot narrative usually sticks the landing. If not slowly wearing you down.
Yet, just when you think Riley has pushed our buttons to the point of no return: giant mutated horses with even bigger, ahem, penises show up in the picture, and give new definition to the term 'work horse.' I could divulge more information, but I don't want to spoil the riches and I urge you to venture into this film with as open a mind as possible. Yet something tells me, “Sorry to Bother You” is going to be the de-facto “WTF” movie of the year.
If anything, “Sorry To Bother You” makes the case that more musicians need to get the directing bug, and even though it might not look as good or as tightly plotted as “Bother You,” you can sense a keen awareness with a director that listens to his films rather than project it on screen. This is radical storytelling at it's finest, and Riley never manages to come off as taking it to seriously, but also says quite a bit about anti-capitalists in visually crafty ways. There's even fun jabs at how desensitize to violence our society is when a show called “I Got The S$%& Kicked Out of Me” averages 150 million viewers a night.
“Sorry to Bother You” probably could've been trimmed down twenty minutes or so, but I'm not sure what else you could ask for in a film that, many times, pushes the envelope in ways audiences haven't seen much of in 2018. If Riley hoped to spark a conversation about the parables of economic hardships in a general sense - he's succeeded.
The world is going to go mad (in a good way) for this wickedly original and creative thrill ride.
'Sorry to Bother You' opens in select theaters July 6th and expands nationwide July 13th