I had zero idea what I was going to expect from the way in which Sorry to Bother You was marketed but walking in with somewhat of a basic idea of what the film was about definitely did not prepare me for what I was about to experience. The directorial debut of rapper Boots Riley of The Coup already has a weird enough premise with an idea based around African-American telemarketers mastering a “white voice” in order to win customers over but somehow it only turned out to be the least crazy of many things that Boots Riley showed us in Sorry to Bother You. But to talk about what goes on in Sorry to Bother You would be spoiling the film, and the film is best experienced walking in completely blind – because what you’ll see in Sorry to Bother You simply isn’t something that can be repeated again so quickly. But even trying to talk about it would be challenging enough because it’s just so off-the-walls in a way that would never be expected to work, yet it does.
As noted in the first paragraph, the film’s basic idea moves itself around an African-American man named Cash Green played by LaKeith Stanfield. Being set in what appears to be present-day Oakland, Cash, struggling to get a job and needing to pay the rent on behalf of his own uncle, takes a job at RegalView as a telemarketer where he wins over customers by using a “white voice” as suggested by a fellow African-American co-worker. The technique soon wins over the appeal of the managers given how much he manages to sell with the usage of the “white voice” and soon he ends up being promoted to the role of a “power caller,” something that may seem really nice on his own end but at the expense of his other friends who are still struggling even to make sales that would help pay off problems of their own. Perhaps that idea alone would be everything you need to know in order to get the gist of where Sorry to Bother You is going, but as you stick on board with the film, what comes forth is something that you cannot so easily prepare yourself for.
Sorry to Bother You already has the basic setup for what could be an entertaining if surreal comedy, but as everything unfolds you also have a nightmare that reflects the real world – if there were anything about Boots Riley’s own debut that will surely set a promising future for him as a director, it can simply be felt in how he doesn’t hold back the film from just being what it is. Everything works so perfectly because of how wonderfully Boots Riley both mixes in the surreal comedy with issues that pervade the world in which we live in, but that’s just the very least of what makes this off-the-walls comedy stand out as much as it does. It sets up a world where you know everything like this makes perfect sense, but the fact that you already feel that on the inside happens to be what it is that makes Sorry to Bother You even freakier. I don’t know how Boots Riley managed to achieve this with a comedy, but if Jordan Peele of all people could create a wonderful satirical film that would also go on to become one of the best mainstream horror films in years, then I think it’s only fair I let myself believe it happens.
When talking about Sorry to Bother You, of course it would not be easy to avoid spoilers but just from the idea of an African-American telemarketer adopting a false identity in order to win over the general public would already set forward a biting commentary about corporate America and what it does to the concept of a human identity. This is a world where people aren’t paying to see the “truth” but only continuously feeding into the problems set forth by society all the more because it never finds itself falling under their own best interests. Boots Riley never plays everything subtly but it shows the effectiveness of the film’s satire, especially as it descends into a spiral almost echoing Eyes Wide Shut (if you see the movie, you would probably get a better grasp at what I mean) but even in moments you would find funny ideally there comes something more haunting especially when the turnouts never go in ways you would expect – as perfectly reflected in a scene with Cassius being made to rap to entertain white partygoers. But you still feel anger inside of Boots Riley’s high concept and even as the most unbelievable may occur he sets up something far more.
LaKeith Stanfield’s leading role here is amazing, but one must also give credit to the actors behind the “white voices” that get everyone further up the grid going from David Cross as Cash’s own white voice and Patton Oswalt just as another black power-caller’s voice. But even as you may recognize these “white voices” as being impressions that these African-American citizens carry, it’s in the fact you still are able to recognize human instincts coming out from the characters trying to live under what they know is true to their own lifestyle. It all shows stunningly from the characters of Tessa Thompson and Steven Yeun, who seek to rebel against a system that benefits itself from Cash’s own vocal alter ego. But of course it is within personalities like these that help bring you closer to this alternative present day reality that Boots Riley sets forth – it’s just impressive on all ends.
I keep letting this movie sit into my head and for all the oddest bits that come forth from start to finish I only find myself loving it all the more. I don’t know how anyone else could have pulled off a film like this and get the exact same results, but somehow Boots Riley managed to allow such an inventive premise to carry all the intrigue it deserves right on the spot and deliver so much more. Ridiculous it may sound, but in all the most hallucinatory moments you find yourself looking at the world around yourself in a whole other way. I know for a fact that this will be on my mind for quite some time and I’ll be raving about it for a while too – and to get the obvious pun out of the way, sorry to bother you, but Sorry to Bother You is a must-see.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Annapurna Pictures.
Directed by Boots Riley
Screenplay by Boots Riley
Produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, Forest Whitaker
Starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 105 minutes