Sorry to Bother You may sound apologetic, but it’s every bit as brash, ballsy, and bonkers a movie that I’ve seen in a directorial debut.
First-time filmmaker Boots Riley satirizes the lengths that people go to for success and selling out in this zany comedy. Set in an alternate present-day Oakland, a young man of color takes a telemarketer job and, in an effort to make more sales, literally adopts a “white voice” to speak to his customers. This could have been where the movie settled to explore this concept more thoroughly, but Riley has so much creativity he wishes to get across in this movie that this is just the beginning.
Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius ‘Cash’ Green, a young man who wishes to line his pockets with a little more money. After starting at a new job as an entry-level telemarketer, he takes the advice from a senior co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) to adopt a “white voice” (voiced by David Cross) to connect with his customers on the cold calls. In hilarious fashion, when Stanfield opens his mouth, Cross’ voice is overdubbed, and the movie has its fun playing the square voice with Stanfield’s soulful performance. It’s this sort of playful comedy that makes this movie a fun time, and comparisons to a Spike Jonze and Spike Lee lovechild are accurate.
The film was picked up by Annapurna Pictures after making its world premiere at Sundance this year for a reported seven figures.
Boots Riley is equally interested in telling a story of activism as much as he is invested in the comedic elements of the story. Cash realizes that his newfound success comes at a price when the company he works for puts him at odds with his lesser established co-workers. It gets to a point where Cash must cross a picket line made up of his bohemian girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and best friend Squeeze (Steven Yeun) to get to work each day, an emotional hardship that he weighs against his large paycheck.
All of this is put on the highest stage when Cash rises in the ranks to become one of the agency’s best employees and into the inner circle of the company’s CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). This is when a dark secret that the company is harboring comes to light. The film ends with one of the most head-spinning twists that would be less fun to spoil here, even though it could use a little more editing in its final act before it makes you do a double take.
Sorry to Bother You is commanding; it is either making you laugh or making you think. Riley does a very good job pulling in all elements, specifically the production design by Jason Kisvarday, in which everything is so detailed it creates a visually rich movie. The ensemble cast does well, with Stanfield carrying the movie on his back, Tessa Thompson delivers another fierce and unwavering performance, Armie Hammer has fun as the bat-shit CEO, and David Cross and Patton Oswalt’s “white voices” are a huge part of the laughs. Sorry to Bother You will find success with audiences willing to have a good time and entertain new visual thoughts. The film was picked up by Annapurna Pictures after making its world premiere at Sundance this year for a reported seven figures.
105 mins. ‘Sorry to Bother You’ is not yet rated.