Monday, July 16, 2018

Movie Review: Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You **** / *****
Directed by: Boots Riley.
Written by: Boots Riley.
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield (Cassius Green), Tessa Thompson (Detroit), Jermaine Fowler (Salvador), Omari Hardwick (Mr. ____), Terry Crews (Sergio), Kate Berlant (Diana DeBauchery), Michael X. Sommers (Johnny), Danny Glover (Langston), Steven Yeun (Squeeze), Armie Hammer (Steve Lift), Robert Longstreet (Anderson), David Cross (Cassisus’ White Voice), Patton Oswalt (Mr. ____’s White Voice), Lily James (Detroit’s White British Voice), Forest Whitaker (Demarius), Rosario Dawson (Voice in Elevator).
Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother is one of the most daring and innovative films of the year – an extremely confident debut film that takes big risks, and for the most part pulls them off. It is a high concept comedy and social satire – a “message” movie wrapped in a delirious package that entertains you, makes you, but leaves you shaken and with a lot to think about. It’s an insane little film – I’m not sure it all comes together, but when it does so many things, does that even matter?
The film stars the talented Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green – a young man living in his uncle’s garage in Oakland, just trying to make enough money to survive. His girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) lives with him. She’s an artist, so at least she has an outlet for creativity – Cassisus has nothing. He finally gets a new job – but it’s one of those soul crushing ones at a telemarketing firm, selling crap to poor people who don’t need it. On the advice of a senior worker, Langston (Danny Glover) – Cassius discovers the secret to selling – using his “white voice” on the phone. He rises up the ranks quickly – becoming a “Power Caller” on an upper floor. There, they don’t sell crap to poor people – but sell things you shouldn’t be selling.
Sorry to Bother You takes place in a world that is very much like ours, but not quite – perhaps it’s just a few years in the future, or in some kind of mirror universe. From the beginning, there is something not quite right about this world. For the first two thirds of the movie, a lot of this has to do with Riley’s direction – it is inventive in a way that doesn’t let a small budget get in the way of complicated shots and sequences. There is an delightful animated sequence (about not so delightful things) – commercials for the new company “Worry Free” essentially marketing themselves to people to turn themselves into slaves – but doing so with a smile. The office in which Cassisus makes those calls looks like a drab, corporate hellhole – but at times, it’s more of a surrealistic nightmare. In nearly every scene, Riley is doing something innovative and inventive visually in his film – pulling from many different influences, but making them all his own.
A lot rides on the performances in the film – and Riley has cast well. Stanfield gives the film’s most complex performance – one that simultaneously grounds in the film in some kind of recognizable reality – but also takes it to extremes. In some ways, Cassius is a victim – but he’s a willing victim for much of it – a man who makes a kind of Faustian deal for success – one that costs him everything. Thompson’s performance helps a great deal as well – turning the typical supportive girlfriend role into something a little deeper. The entire supporting cast is great as well – a highlight is probably Armie Hammer, going full rich guy asshole (a mode I like him in). The film’s most obvious, innovative choice is one that pays off brilliantly – instead of getting Stanfield to do a Dave Chappelle like “white voice” he actually dubs in another actor (David Cross) doing the white guy voice when Stanfield is doing it – something he repeats with another character (using Patton Oswalt) and even Detroit (using Lily James, an British White voice to up the ante even more). Everyone is doing such great work, that you ride along with the film even as it gets weirder and weirder as it goes.
The last act of Sorry to Bother You is undeniably the weirdest – and it’s weird in a way I don’t know if it entirely works. I don’t doubt that when the twist comes, some audiences will immediately kind of rebel or shut down to the movie – and I didn’t have that experience. I admire Riley to take his film to the extreme – to examine just how far things can be pushed, and all of us just willing go along with it (or as they say in the movie, if you present people with a problem they cannot solve, they find a way to live with the problem). In order to get there, Riley needs to push things to the extreme – which he does well. Yet, the last act is still the weakest – perhaps because it gets so weird in some ways, Riley pulls back in others. I definitely want to see the film again – knowing the twist that is coming, to see if it works better without the shock value to it.
No matter what, Sorry to Bother You is still one of the best, most inventive films I have seen this year – and one of the most exciting debut films to come out in years. It announces a major new talent to the film world. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

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