Sorry to Bother You
Directed by Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and drug use
1 hr., 45 min.
From out of nowhere, for your summer’s entertainment, a little film about white power, modern slavery and a coke-snorting plot twist that turns workers into hard-working half-horse, half-men. Is this social commentary or sci-fi?
It’s definitely satirical and done with such unapologetic audaciousness that you don’t seem to mind taking punches to the face and having your nose rubbed in white privilege. Take note, corporate America and closed-door old-boy networks. Black artists are gunning for you. First, the comedic horror of Get Out. Now this. No subtlety here. This is all-out, up-yours brutal.
It’s an alternative version of Oakland, where a company called WorryFree is advertising the possibility of getting your bills paid and having food and housing in your back pocket. What it does say is what you need to give up to sign up. And since this is voluntary, it’s not really slavery if you agree to the contract. Right?
Meanwhile, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) and his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), are living hand to mouth in his Uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage. Everyone’s out of cash and about to lose their shirts. Sergio wants his rent money. Cassius needs a job.
But the only job he can land is at a telemarketing company called RegalView, where his friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) says they’ll take anyone, even pot-smoking BSers like Cassius, who tries to lie his way in the door.
RegalView sees through it but considers him a go-getter. The problem is that Cassius is not very convincing on the phone. In fact, he’s a terrible salesman.
In what will someday be viewed as a classic piece of dialogue, an old-timer named Langston (Danny Glover) convinces Cassius to sell by using his white voice. White voice? Yeah, you didn’t know the difference? It turns out that Cassius has a talent for voices, one that starts to pay off big-time when he is promoted up the ranks as a so-called power caller.
And then things start to get really weird. Lavish parties. One of the funniest (and worst) raps I’ve ever heard. And let me ask you: If someone as world-renowned as Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) offered you $100 million to become an equisapien for five years, would you do it? And what is an equisapien? Ah, the fun begins.
Director and writer Boots Riley knows his radical roots. He was born into the black socialist politics of Chicago, Detroit and Oakland in the early 1970s. He has been making political hip-hop albums since 1991. Now he’s taken all that black power and filled Sorry to Bother You to the brim.
Turns out, he’s not sorry at all. This film is rough, deliberately low-budget and doesn’t care if it’s offensive or politically incorrect. What it seeks is your attention; and in its writing and storyline, it’s doing exactly what the director wants — making you laugh at yourself.
In this case, comedy is a power drill to the forehead. Funny, as in lunatic funny, outlandishly funny, irreverently funny. And filled with the conflict between ideological protest and the need to make money, lots of money, funny.
Remember Occupy Wall Street? This is Riley’s version of Occupy Wall Street shoved right down our throats. His view: Those people that Wall Streeters laughed at while they were camped out in the snow? They’re coming to get you.
So if you’re looking for a nice family film, probably best to avoid Sorry to Bother You.
If, however, you don’t mind sarcasm, satire, outlandish racial profiling, horses, orgies, unionization, bad T.V., soda cans, social media buzz, left-wing politics, sex and frequent drug use, then you’ll enjoy this film. At least until you realize that Riley may actually be bringing those equisapiens right to your doorstep, and they aren’t selling vacuum cleaners.