“Sorry to Bother You” Movie Review

Of all the low-end jobs that I could end up with in my adult life, being a telemarketer just seems like the absolute worst of my options. And that includes being a Wal-Mart greeter and working the bathrooms at any fast food restaurant you could think of. This absurdist sci-fi comedy screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, getting picked up shortly after by the newly formed studio Annapurna Pictures. Despite a somewhat limited release, it has grossed over $13.4 million at the box office against a $3.2 million budget. Given the highly positive critical response it’s been receiving, I wouldn’t doubt if it jumps even further as it expands to more theaters. Written and directed by Boots Riley, a former rapper and recording artist, the film is loosely based on his own experiences in low-ranking capitalism jobs. Originally having trouble finding financing for it, he instead recorded it as a concept album in 2012 with his hip-hop group The Coup. It wasn’t until June of last year that Forrest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi read the script and instantly provided funding for it. Set in an alternate present-day Oakland, the story follows LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius Green, a young African-American man with few ambitions and talents. In an effort to prove himself to his visual artist girlfriend Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson, he reluctantly decides to take a job at a telemarketing firm called Regal View. At the advice of a colleague, he begins using a fake “white voice,” which subsequently earns him more revenue and split reactions from friends. And from there, while his economic life soars, his social one spirals out of control as he’s faced with harsh realities. That is about as much as I can say about the plot without diving into the full, juicy meat. To say anything more would completely ruin the shocking twists and turns that frequently left my jaw on the floor. That, or it will just begin to sound REALLY weird to casual viewers. Either way, rest assured that there’s a lot more going on than simply poking fun at the subject matter. When I saw the first trailer for Sorry to Bother You, I got excited because it seemed like a blackly humorous, deliberately absurd critique of the world of telemarketing. The movie I finally saw in theaters was not, at all, what I was expecting to watch- and that made me love it even more. While I could honestly spend this entire review lauding how genuinely novel and unconventional the film is, Riley is wise not just to use the absurdity as a way to produce laughter. (Although, it does work for those instances) Rather, he uses these small little sci-fi details in this alternate reality to give greater context to the story, using Oakland as a character unto itself. There are some things throughout the movie that, if it were shown to us normally, would seem way too outlandish to believe. Thankfully, we are put into the same shoes as Cassius Green, confused and speechless by what’s going on while everyone else treats it casually. Not since Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster in 2016 has such a far-out dystopian world so simultaneously felt unreal yet rational. Following a series of great supporting roles in Get Out and Atlanta, LaKeith Stanfield proves here that he can carry a movie as a lead all on his own. Quite possibly one of the best actors of his generation, he embodies the persona of a young man with little going for him. In a way, despite being called a sellout by using his “white voice,” you can still see the desperation and loneliness in his eyes because he’s finally found something he’s good at. He’s buoyed by a fantastic supporting cast, each with their own goals and problems. These include Tessa Thompson as Cash’s art-loving girlfriend, Terry Crews as his hard-pressed uncle, Jermaine Fowler as a goodhearted cousin who sees through the system, Danny Glover as the man who introduces the “white voice,” and The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun as the leader of the union for telemarketers. My favorite player, aside from Stanfield, is the increasingly prolific Armie Hammer as Steve Lift. The CEO of Regal View’s biggest client, his exuberant charisma is matched only by his manipulative, cocaine-snorting personality. He apathetically tells Cash, “I’m not your boss; I’m your friend.” And it’s not just the script that feels different; Boots Riley uses his background in music videos to create a distinct style for Sorry to Bother You. Cinematographer Doug Emmett uses many full and close-up shots to isolate the characters in this highly absurd environment. Often, as the camera is focused on a certain subject, there’s something else far more ridiculous happening in the background, which makes the world feel credible and real. Emmett also shows a wonderful color palette and heightens specific colors, such as purple and yellow, for various scenes or characters. Meanwhile, the editing by Terel Gibson compliments the camera work very nicely. By using a number of clever scene transitions and movements between cuts, there’s a certain fluidity to the narrative. As the actors are speaking with their “white voice,” the lip-syncing is deliberately terrible as the white actors are dubbed over. Perhaps it’s to help further establish us in the surreal environment that has been created for the screen. If so, it works. The musical score is composed by New England project Tune-Yards in collaboration with Boots Riley’s former cohorts The Coup. It’s clear that all parties knew exactly what this movie needed to be playing in the background while the action was taking place. The soundtrack infuses traditional instruments, such as strings and synthesizers, with heavy hip-hop beats. Each song just feels right for the respective moment used in the movie, whether it’s serious or deadpan humorous. I’ll be honest, I’m unsure how much of it is from their 2012 album of the same name. But most of the tracks use creative vocal arrangements, including supporting ones from cast members and Janelle Monáe, to make a surrounding audio that feels… odd, to say the least. Nevertheless, it’s easily one of the most distinctive features of the film, and one soundtrack I plan on picking up at some point. However, I should probably acknowledge that while most audiences will likely appreciate its creativity, it might just be a little TOO weird for some. As I was watching the film, I noticed there were a number of people who looked like they just wanted to leave while it was still playing. And that’s not even touching on the message it tried to convey. It wasn’t specifically anti-Trump but rather more of a harsh, scary condemnation of white corporatism and what basically amounts to modern-day slavery. It can admittedly feel kind of jarring at first, but once you’ve settled into the crazy world that’s been built, a lot of things start making logical sense. If you can’t accept from the beginning that this going to be a weird movie, then you’re, unfortunately, gonna feel left behind. Luckily, if you’re able to get past that, Sorry to Bother You is a funny, seething, and wholly original look right into the horrors of employment. It’s going to have to take a lot in order for another feature film this year to top this level of screenwriting creativity and inspired plotting. Boots Riley clearly has a lot to say, and a desire to scream it for the entire world to hear, and I can’t wait to see what else he might have in store.

Image result for sorry to bother you poster




1 thought on ““Sorry to Bother You” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: The 20 Best Films of 2018 | Geek's Landing

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