Hot Take: A brilliant, hilarious, original film. There’s an essence of zany satire that throws back to Zucker Abrahams and Zucker or Mel Brooks but deep enough to cut like a Spike Lee Joint. You can sense it’s heading to go off the rails but when it does you can’t even imagine how far off the rails it’s going. A wild, unapologetic, crazy ride.
You don’t expect the debut film of a 47 year-old cult indie rapper would hit with so much force as Sorry to Bother You. Writer/director Boots Riley had to hustle for years to even get the film made. He perfected his pitch: “It’s an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the world of telemarketing. It’s called ‘Sorry to Bother You.’ ” He spent years tapping acquaintances he made over the course of his rap career and during his time as a community activist and organizer. Eventually, after being passed over by plenty of actors and artists, he found support in David Cross, Patton Oswalt and David Eggers (who published the script as a book in 2014). Thankfully, for all of us, Riley got the support he needed and what is currently MHT’s favorite film of 2018 became a reality.
It’s hard to provide a worthy synopsis of Sorry to Bother You because it’s got so much going on around the premise. Sounding too straightforward doesn’t give the film it’s due. In the film, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is out of work and living with his uncle Sergio (Terry Crews)… in his garage. His girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is a performance artist by night and corner sign twirler by day. Green lands a job at telemarketing firm RealView where even lying on his resume and in his interview can’t keep him from being hired but once in, Green longs to rise to the upper echelon at the firm and join the ranks of the mysterious “Power Callers.” Struggling at first, Cassius meets Langston (Danny Glover), the office old head who advises Green to use his “white voice” to sell. Reluctant at first, Green turns on his “white voice” (provided by David Cross) and reaches levels of unprecedented success while his friends at work — Squeeze (Steven Yuen) and Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) — organize to unionize.
Without giving too much away, it feels only right to stop there. The film takes place in an alternate version of present-day Oakland where a controversial new company — WorryFree — is making the headlines due to its practice of offering a worry-free life with free food and living quarters and no bills in exchange for a lifetime work contract. If it sounds like slavery, you’d be on the right track. Green’s girlfriend is part of the radical group “Left Eye” which opposes WorryFree and it’s founder Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). Part political commentary, part screwball science fiction comedy, Sorry to Bother You is a fascinating watch. Is it scattershot? Sure. But that’s part of the film’s attraction.
Riley’s spectacular script also provides a platform for some great performances. Stanfield shines brighter than any of his previous roles and that’s saying something as he’s been straight fire recently. The same goes for Thompson who will eventually land some lead roles if she continues on her current trajectory. Hammer’s small role is a scene-stealer as he collects top honors in every appearance he makes on screen. None of it overshadows Riley’s amazing script, though, as it riffs on everything from capitalism to socialism to performance art to “art of the sale” movies such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Boiler Room.
Even though it’s only July, Sorry to Bother You is going to be a tough film to top on MHT’s Best of 2018 list. It’s usually August that we get that film that sticks at or close to the top of the list for the rest of the year. In 2016, it was Hell or High Water which finished 3rd and last year, it was Wind River which landed 4th. Riley’s debut though is the strongest candidate of the three to ride the wave of Oscar hopefuls and still be sitting atop the list though it looks to be facing some promising competition come the fall. That doesn’t take anything away from how amazing this satirical farce is and how worthy of all the praise Sorry to Bother You is. As it continues to expand (now in 1,000+ theaters in its third weekend), it gives this film the chance to reach a wider audience and deservedly so. Sorry to Bother You might make you think and should absolutely make you laugh but watching it is no bother at all.
You love satire and a movie willing to go completely off the rails to help deliver its message… and make you laugh your ass off.
You think, after all of that, I’m going to give you a reason to skip it? SPOILER ALERT: NO!