Sorry to Bother You review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
In a movie year of so many surprising and twisty plots, Sorry To Bother You takes the cake as the bluntest, most satirical, and hilariously powerful comedy that makes a statement while weaving a wild tale. To even speak of its story is to nearly ruin the odd rollercoaster this cult commentary concocts. In time, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ranks among the likes of Soylent Green as one of those films you shouldn’t tell anyone about seeing if you plan on viewing. It’s really that much of a treat to avoid spoiling.
Trying to keep this review spoiler-free is a challenge but I’ll give it a go since it really is a film worth talking about and seeing more than once. Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius Green, a down-on-his-luck black guy struggling to make a buck. He’s recently landed a job at a telemarketing firm in which the recruiter admits the requirements for the job are extremely low. But if you can sell over the phone, you can make a lot of money. The secret, according to his co-worker played Danny Glover, is to use the special “white voice.” It seems to be a power all black people possess in this world as a mere manipulation of standards and cadence causes him to sound exactly like David Cross. He’ll go far with that voice but doesn’t realize just how far it’ll take him into the darker spots of the upscale life.
As the directorial debut of rapper Boots Riley, his film is perhaps one of the boldest when it comes to the effects of warped capitalism. This aspect comes in the most blatant forms of satire with the slave-labor camps of a factory offering housing and work, as well as a game show where contestants are literally beaten up for money and entertaining a bloodthirsty audience. Things get even crazier when Cassius goes deeper into the world of the elite, revealing a business plan weird enough to be worthy of the likes of They Live. It goes overboard with the odd to makes its points loud and clear while still presenting strange and entertaining tale.
A lot of films that set ambitions high with these alternative and allegorical futures always tend to veer too far off course, but Riley’s film always seems very much on point, never getting lost in all the craziness that mounts higher around Cassius’ rise to the top of the golden ladder. There’s a lot of little stuff the film never dwells too long upon, from Cassius’ girlfriend’s (Tessa Thompson) symbolic earrings that change with every scene to the imagery of Cassius entering the homes of the people he speaks with. The visuals are never made fully clear if they’re inside his head or happening in reality, made all the more confounding by a forehead injury he receives halfway through the film that refuses to heal. And I absolutely adore how unapologetic the film is with these scenes, never fully revealing the true nature.
It’s no surprise that a story as telling and fascinating as this one came from a personal place for Boots Riley and his time as a telemarketer, becoming accustomed to the power rankings of a company, the temptation of wealth, and loss of self at the cost of freedom. It’s a film that has just right amount bluntness and subtlety presented as subject to many rounds of dissection with its numerous and telling details. It’s not an easy film to watch or digest, for more reasons than one but touches upon something profound in its colorfully vivid atmosphere of a world gone mad for wealth and status. I can only offer my strongest of recommendations to see the film without revealing its true twist that is designed to be equal parts allegorical, shocking, hilarious, and horrid. Thank or hate me later.