Sorry to Bother You Lakeith Stanfield Tessa ThompsonYear: 2018
Director(s): Boots Riley
Writer(s): Boots Riley
Region of Origin: USA

Rating: R
Digital, Color, 105 mins

Synopsis: In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe.. (Source)

Sorry to Bother you arrives at a time when we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. Despite a new revelations everyday, marches every weekend, families being separated, we’re at the point where all of this injustice is so commonplace, we’re systematically growing numb. Boots Riley’s directorial debut is the wake up call to all of this. It’s a furious satire that bends the needle so far into absurdity that it swings back to normalcy and becomes too real to laugh by the time those credits roll. Falling somewhere in between Office Space meets Get Out, Riley’s film is dense and unforgiving, piling on so much lunacy that it’s hard to keep up. Still, this film has some real teeth. Behind the colorful presentation and defiant eccentricity is a rallying cry, dissecting cultural erasure and corporate evil in a way that we can no longer ignore.

Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) is so desperate for a job, he weasels himself into a telemarketing firm. There, the employees (people of color working for white bosses) are treated like slaves, working for commission while doing a job that’s nothing less than invasive. Those who do well are promised to become power sellers, moving to higher floors and earning obscene amounts of cash. Struggling to do his part, Cassius makes a breakthrough when a coworker urges him to use his “white voice”. In essence, this voice lifts the burden and hardship from his tone of delivery, as well as erasing his cultural identity. Still, Cassius turns out to be a natural with his white voice, slaying phone lines and moving up even as his coworkers and artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), begin to rebel against the company status quo. As Cassius climbs the corporate ladder, he’s forced to confront the hideous nature of his new position, one that threatens to plunge the world even deeper into chaos.

Riley’s ability to render Cassius and Detroit’s nightmarish reality is both hypnotic and repulsing. This isn’t a film that’s here to play nice, and beneath the surface humor, is pitch black reality. As such, the dystopia that Riley’s created is as immersive as it is subversive. Riley tackles everything from fair wages, minority struggle and a locked cycle of apathy and corporate conditioning. This may be the year’s most punk rock film. It lures us in with its colorful strangeness only to pull the rug out from underneath us. Still, for a film that’s as aggressively weird as this, it never feels without purpose or meaning. Every frame is an assault on the senses, and one that couldn’t come at a better time, showcasing Riley’s singular voice while harnessing it as a weapon.

Sorry to Bother You review Lakeith Stanfield Armie HammerThe cast couldn’t be more perfect, either. Stanfield’s Cassius makes it all feel believable, selling the desperation of his character and a thirst for self-betterment, no matter what the cost. It’s because of Stanfield’s reliability that the film’s inherent silliness feels like it has stakes, and that we understand the humanity that gets lost in the shuffle. As Detroit, Tessa Thompson gives the film an unpredictable energy. She pops up every now and then, always striking like lightning and helping to solidify the film’s brash, unhinged world. Elsewhere, the film is lined with performers who stand their own. Steven Yeun’s Squeeze offers a more grounded counterpoint, Danny Glover’s Langston gives the film some gravitas, Armie Hammer’s Steve is a cartoonish villain who cuts deep, and Omari Hardwick’s mysterious Mr. Blank thrives in subversion. There are way too many others to note, but there isn’t a single weak link in the chain.

Sorry To Bother You is a new classic. Riley plays by his own rules, daring us to keep up every step of the way. As the film’s screwball antics coalesce into a real whopper of a third act, we’re treated to a volatile cocktail of social upheaval, bizarre oddities that are beyond this world and characters whose call to arms light the spark for something incendiary. Riley’s film is a proper disruption for the machine, a breath of fresh air that hides deeper meaning behind and ignites a fire with its anarchic insanity.

SG