Sundance 2018 Review: ‘Sorry to Bother You’ is the Most Original and Ambitious Film of the Year.
Written and directed by Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a down on his luck telemarketer struggling to get by and living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Desperate for money, Cassius interviews and lands a job at Regal View where he sits in a cubicle making cold calls for 8 hours a day hoping to one day become a Power Caller. After several days without a single sale, Cassius’ co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) offers him some advice. Langston tells Cassius that he needs to use his “white” voice when making calls in order to close sales. This small piece of advice ends up changing Cassius life as he quickly becomes the best salesperson at River View and is soon promoted to the top floor where he works as a Power Caller.
From the vague film’s plot description above, Sorry to Bother You doesn’t sound like the most ambitious film of the year but trust me, it is. I realize the phrase “unlike anything that you have seen before” is thrown around a lot these days, but I honestly can’t think of another film quite like Sorry to Bother You. Boots Riley is a film lover, and this film is something that feels like a homage to a wide range of filmmakers including Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, Michel Gondry, and Spike Jonze.
With that being said, it is tough to describe this film because it is a combination of so many genres and ideas brought to life by Riley’s incredible imagination. Sorry to Bother You is a social satire but one that combines several genres into one. There are certain scenes that will have you laughing out loud while others are horrifying to watch.
In between the remarkable visuals and crazy concepts lies a lot of social commentary about the current state of the United States. Riley isn’t afraid to address essential topics like racism, gentrification, slavery, and capitalism. There is an entire subplot focused on how the River View staff is underpaid and are treated like slaves rather than people. Squeeze (Steven Yeun) organizes a protest which takes place throughout most of the film. During the protest, Squeeze and the rest of the staff are shown demanding raises and being treated with respect.
Even though Cassius becomes a sell-out, Riley’s script shows us why he has let the success go to his head. Cassius is introduced as someone that has suffered a lot in life and considering his poor upbringing and lack of achievement; it isn’t hard to root for him and hope that he finds success. You can’t help but feel for his character because he deserves a break after so many years of struggling to get by.
While addressing all the topics mention above, Sorry to Bother You somehow finds the time to poke fun at the current state of the media and our obsession with viral videos. There has been a lot of negativity towards the media for the past several years and this is way before Donald Trump coined the phrase “Fake News.” While not all news is accurate, Sorry To Bother You highlights the world’s obsession with irrelevant stories instead of the important issues. I love that Riley isn’t afraid to show how reality television and videos on YouTube are slowly dumbing down our society. The I Got The Shit Kicked Out Of Me reality show that is featured in the film is a shining example of the type of distraction that so many people nowadays would gravitate towards.
Lakeith Stanfield is such a versatile actor and completely commits to the material. The entire film is centered around his performance and he just nails it. I love that Riley gave Stanfield the chance to become a leading man. It’s so strange to write that last sentence because, with so many memorable performances from Short Term 12 to Get Out, it is pretty hard to believe that it took such a long time for Stanfield to land a leading role. As Cassius Green, Stanfield gets to show off his comedic side along with his dramatic. The scene where Cassius’ boss Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) asks him to rap during a party is hilarious. The scene is awkward as hell but ends up being one of the funniest moments of the film.
Tessa Thompson’s performance as Detriot was also excellent. I love watching Thompson go back and forth between independent films and mainstream projects. Thompson is such a talented actress, and every role that she plays is different from the last. Watching Thompson play a creative artist who just so happens to be a political activist was a ton of fun. This role although more comedic in some ways captures who I think Thompson is in real life and what she stands for. She has been a powerful voice as of late on social media and has become a trailblazer for change in the film community.
Sorry to Bother You may not be for everyone, but as someone who appreciates filmmakers that dare to push boundaries while breaking conventions, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this wild and crazy world Riley created. This is a very funny but angry film with a lot to say. Boots Riley is a talent worth keeping an eye on. I look forward the seeing the film again when released later this year and cannot wait to see what Riley does next.
Scott ‘Movie Man’Menzel’s rating for Sorry to Bother You is a 9 out of 10.