A scathing critique of capitalism and its monopoly over politics, culture, and even one’s sense of self, hidden inside a comedy about being a telemarketer. The sharp dive into the surreal will not appeal to everyone, but it remains a must-see. Buy the ticket.
More frequent readers will notice that this review does not follow my normal template, breaking down the film into what works, what doesn’t, and examining issues that go beyond what is shown on screen.
To be frank, it’s because I don’t know if I am capable of reviewing this film. The sheer scope of themes it tries to tackle, married with the deep saturation of genre styles and surrealism it takes on, goes beyond my limits. It requires multiple viewings, though even then, a proper understanding is not guaranteed.
Sorry to Bother You can’t be separated so simply into “what works” and “what didn’t,” save perhaps for Tessa Thompson, who continues to astound. Though it likely won’t be this year, prepare yourself for the inevitability of her taking the stage at the Oscars. It can’t be soon enough.
Here’s what I can say, for certain:
No film has ever showcased the strange truths of being a telemarketer with the same accuracy and tear-inducing humor as Sorry to Bother You.
This is writer/director Boots Riley’s first major directorial effort, and rather than easing into it, he chose to burn the entire house down.
The success of Riley’s venture can be largely attributed to the absolute fearlessness with which the story is approached. The movie doesn’t give a damn about the audience’s comfort or familiarity. It plays with your expectations and uses LaKeith Stanfield’s (Atlanta) subtle and boiling performance to make you envy, despite, fear, and sympathize with him. This happens one after another until a sequence so blatantly shocking that you are basically merged with Stanfield, whether you want to be or not.
It’s just so goddam weird. Its weirdness is intentional, though a full and proficient reading is beyond me. At the very least, the point is this: imagine for a second the worst possible thing you could imagine a mega-corporation, whose reach is essentially beyond the law, is capable of today. Whatever you just imagined, Sorry to Bother You basically says, “yeah, except literally, and it’s way worse than what you thought.”
This will be taught in film classes for years to come. It is a brilliant and unique physical imagining of the concepts of white supremacy, late-stage capitalism, corporatocracies, the role of art in politics and social justice, the responsibility of artists, generational trauma, white-washing, the value of unions, the value placed on black bodies by society, socialism, and the ethics of success for people of color.
If any of those things sound interesting, then go see it.
If not, at the least, it’s very educational. So do it anyway.
“In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of “powercalling” that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius’ career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who’s secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective. As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company’s cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.” -Rotten Tomatoes