First-time director and screenwriter Boots Riley (leader of musical group The Coup) creates one of the craziest movies you will ever see with Sorry to Bother You, a hilarious, nasty and even scary showcase for the talents of Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson.
This is comedic satire at its screwiest, with sci-fi, fantasy and horror elements inserted in such a way that Riley completely shatters the rules of conventional filmmaking. Stated simply: There are tons of “What the fuck?” moments in this movie.
Cassius Green (Stanfield) is living in a garage owned by his uncle (Terry Crews), looking for a better life and a job. His performance-artist girlfriend, Detroit (Thompson), encourages him to pursue what he wants—but tells him not lose his sense of self.
After procuring a job at a mass telemarketing agency, Cassius finds himself striking out with call after call. It’s here that Riley employs an ingenious visual trick, with Cassius physically showing up in the lives of the people he is interrupting with his telemarketing nonsense: Cassius’ desk is dropped into one situation after another (people having sex, people mourning, etc.). This does a great job of conveying the intrusiveness of that particular sales tactic.
A seasoned co-worker (Danny Glover) advises Cassius to use his white-man voice (supplied by the great, and very white, David Cross). This brings immediate success, and catapults Cassius up the ladder—and into the hallowed upstairs office where the Power Callers reside. However, the road to success involves him becoming more of a douchebag—and, ultimately, a revolutionary.
If the film were simply a caustic observation on the art of the sale and trying to get ahead in life, it would be funny enough. However, Riley doesn’t stop there: Sorry to Bother You winds up being a brutal look at class separation, racial divides, evil corporate conglomerates, slave labor, social media and, yes, bleeding head wounds. (Cassius spends a lot of time with one of those Revolutionary War-looking makeshift bandages wrapped around his head, complete with a big red blood stain.)
Stanfield—who had that masterful, turning-point scene in Get Out that featured a bloody nose, a camera and lots of screaming—takes his work to the next level in this movie. He occupies the role in a way that you could imagine nobody else doing it. Thompson, one of my very favorite actresses, does nothing but cement that status with everything she does in this movie.
Armie Hammer is funnier than you would ever expect him to be as coke-sniffing billionaire Steve Lift; things take some crazy turns after he shows up in the movie. Also showing master comic chops: Steven Yeun (Glenn from The Walking Dead) as a revolutionary co-worker, and Robert Longstreet as Cassius’ twisted boss.
Quite a while into this movie, you may be thinking: “Gee, Bob, this seems like straightforward satire to me. This isn’t as ‘out there’ as you suggested, you stupid, lying, ugly bastard.” Well, hang tight, because Riley is going to knock you on your ass with tonal shifts as violent as a volcanic eruption during a nuclear explosion. There was nobody watching over this movie and saying, “Oh, hell no, you can’t do that. Nope!” This movie is a pure example of what can happen when you don’t restrict an ambitious, talented filmmaker.
Sorry to Bother You falls short of being a classic, due to some glaringly loose-ended scenes and occasional jokes that fall flat. Riley’s scattershot style leads to some moments that feel a little sloppy and unfinished. Still, the brashness of this enterprise is absolutely breathtaking. I think Riley’s all-time classic is yet to come.
If you are suffering from sequel and/or superhero fatigue this summer, and you want something raw and new, Sorry to Bother You will not disappoint. It also might just fuck you up a bit.
Sorry to Bother You is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682); and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0333).