Review: Sorry To Bother You won’t be your favorite film of the year, but dear God, will you remember it
Sorry to Bother You has a unique hook that is pretty easy to wrap your mind around. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is down on his luck and takes a shitty telemarketing job. When Langston (Danny Glover) teaches Cash to use his “white voice” (David Cross), he rises up the ranks to become a top telemarketer. When you actually see Boots Riley’s bombastic surreal comedy, it goes to places you can-- um-- not wrap your mind around. This movie is off-the-wall inventive and mileage will vary. I loved it.
With notes of both Spikes (Lee and Jones) Riley crafts a film with sharp racial commentary illustrated through a surreal world that’s a funhouse mirror of our own. The world is incredibly fun, from Cash’s girlfriend Detroit (the quickly-becoming-my-favorite-in-everything Tessa Thompson) having a collection of brash earrings to a popular reality show called “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!” Protest is vogue and mostly ineffective against the large, transparently evil conglomerate, “WorryFree Living” that is literally contracting slave labor. As Cash works his way up the ranks as a “power caller,” he uncovers a truth that’s even darker, but disregards it since he’s finally found personal success. When Cash crosses his friends in the picket line, a protester throws a soda can at him and goes viral. In one of my favorite of the hilarious, illuminating moments in the film, that protester stars in a soda commercial weeks later.
What at first seems like a surreal sci-fi comes into focus as a biting socialist satire, culminating with the coked up WorryFree CEO (Armie Hammer, having a blast) revealing the most “what the fuck” thing in the movie. I won’t dare spoil it, but rest assured someone in your theater will say “what the fuck” out loud between minute 60 and the end.
While the wacky satire keeps viewers laughing at our horrible world, the overwhelming silliness distracts from the character moments. Stanfield’s performance is excellent but he isn’t given enough moments to explore Cash’s conflicted character. Despite the prestige air around the film, it suffers from a similar problem most comedies do: prioritizing laughs over character.
Maybe that’s okay, though. I saw this in a packed house and it was a blast. Lots of laughs, and lots of genuine shock from the audience. Despite the lack of emotional sting, Riley spins one hell of a yarn. A lot of the biggest summer hits like Avengers: Infinity War, Ocean’s 8, and Incredibles 2 are escapist fun that let us forget about the world burning around us. For a movie that’s so essential to the now, it’s impressive that it serves the same function. If you’re game for it, Sorry to Bother You is a very good time... and just might make you a socialist.
Good if you like: Get Out but on acid and socialist
Pros: Hilarious, inventive world, great performances (Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, and Steven Yeun are excellent and shamefully weren’t mentioned in this piece), Danny Glover says “I’m getting too old for this shit”
Cons: Lacks emotional punch