Sorry to Bother You is the directing debut of Boots Riley. A sci-fi comedy set in the near future, it stars Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius (Cash) Green, a telemarketer, who discovers a magical key that leads to success and a higher business position, but also exposes his employer’s dark secrets. Sorry to Bother You is full of wit, great dialogue, good performances, and some seriously messed up imagery. It’s also a film that falls a bit short on its message by the end. A movie that seems like it can’t decide what direction it wants to go in, but, at the same time, this is what makes it very intriguing. It’s entertaining, a crazy social commentary, and a promising directing debut for Boots Riley.
Sorry to Bother You has a very millennial consumerism feel to it. There’s a lot of themes of how messed-up the future potentially is, the most popular TV shows are ones where characters are having the stuffing beat out of them, and bad news is treated like “great for business”. In many ways, this film is a reflection on our modern society, as a whole. In other ways, it’s actually quite funny, dark humor. Cash starts working for Regal View, a telemarketing company using infomercials to sell you “perfect” items that actually turn out to be incredibly flawed. All of this is blatantly aggressive consumerism to the point where, to get ahead, salespeople use a simulated “white voice” (Cash’s voice is supplied by David Cross) to make themselves sound more appealing to customers. Personally, I thought the social commentary for the first part of the film was really well-handled.
The performances across the board are quite impressive. Lakeith Stanfield is a newcomer to films and has the potential for a breakout. He does a great job portraying the worker who moves ahead in the business, ends up losing what’s important to him, and discovers he’s really out of his element. Tessa Thompson plays his girlfriend, Detroit, who doesn’t have a job, and spends most of her days flipping billboard signs. Thompson is a real talent, and she’s quite calming in the film as a sort of voice of reason. Armie Hammer appears as the CEO of Regal View, Steve Lift. Hammer, as an actor, has been growing on me in the past few years, (Call Me By Your Name and Free Fire). He’s so good as a misleading sleaze-ball, who takes advantage of people for his own personal gain. Terry Crews appears as Cash’s uncle, the owner of the garage that Cash lives in, and he’s awesome. Omari Hardwick, is not given a name, just Mr. _____(Blank), and not much is known about him, but he does help Cash with his new position, and is given a ”white voice” by comedian Patton Oswalt. Of particular note is Danny Glover’s performance as Langston, another co-worker, who encourages Cash to use his “white voice” to get ahead.
The film has a witty script, along with its heavy social commentary, it’s also a comedy, and as a comedy, it’s very funny. Some of the one liners that got the audience laughing included: “35% of men who wear pink are more likely to start a franchise”, and “Hot damn, you’re a sharp one”. These lighter moments feel quite natural and relatable, which I appreciated. The humor is, in fact, one of the film’s strengths, being both well-written and coming from the right place.
About halfway through the film, it goes places you wouldn’t expect. I was actually shocked at the direction it decided to take. The main message was indeed laid down without much subtlety from the start and the overall craziness made it a memorable experience. Sorry to Bother You is a well-told satire that some people might find off-putting, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. One of biggest surprises of 2018, thus far. I don’t think you should miss it.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget Theater Monday through Thursday at 1:30, 4:10, and 6:45 PM, Friday and Saturday at 1:30, 4:00, 6:40, and 9:10 PM, and Sunday at 1:30, 4:00, and 6:45 PM.