Sorry To Bother You is a stunning mix of righteous anger and viciously absurd comedy

By Leigh Monson
   It’s rare that I ever feel it appropriate to express this sort of sentiment, so believe me when I say that there is nothing quite like Sorry To Bother You. The freshman feature from rapper Boots Riley, Sorry To Bother You is such a fresh and unique vision from an auteur with a lot to say and the skills to make that vision a reality. With a slick eye for style, a biting wit, and a viciously absurd sense of humor, this a film with one goal in mind: it wants to burn itself into your memory, making you think over and over about the perversity it presents you so that you might take what you glean from this heightened reality with you into your daily life. And in that, Riley’s film is a rousing success. I will be taking the memories of this film with me to the grave, in no small part because I’ll be inspired to revisit it many times in the future.
   Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) – pronounced “Cash Is Green,” just in case you needed to primed for just how bluntly Boots Riley wields his metaphors – is a financially struggling black man living in his uncle’s garage who gets a job working at a telemarketing firm, along with his socially-conscious artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). At first struggling to succeed with his clientele, Cassius receives sage advice from a fellow black employee (Danny Glover) to use his “white voice” (dubbed in with the talents of David Cross), which catapults him from mediocrity to becoming the star player, in turn carrying the promise of promotion to the esteemed position of Power Caller. Meanwhile, the other workers at the agency organize to form a union, fighting for fair wages and better working conditions, and Cassius’s meteoric rise to personal success threatens to destroy his relationships with the people who once showed him the ropes.
   That is the most basic way to describe the cascading dominoes of plot that only get more and more insane as Cassius becomes more successful. Saying any more would be spoiling the fun, but the film has nothing but contempt for the capitalistic mechanisms it portrays, heightening reality enough to make an allegorical point without becoming so divorced from reality that it becomes unrecognizable in just what exactly Boots Riley is so angry about. He has thoughts about wage labor, the arms industry, reality television, the use of foreign labor to make modern conveniences, the coopting of black talent to further white power, the ways in which capitalism forces us to choose between living comfortably and compromising our morals, and the means by which the wealthy reinforce their control of the masses. This is uncompromisingly bitter messaging, and that anger is an engine to lurches jarringly from one scene to another with a force that never quite lets you get comfortable with what it’s showing you.
   And what’s astounding is that Sorry To Bother You remains hilarious throughout, using comedy as a tongue-in-cheek expression of sanity in an insane world. Lakeith Stanfield is a perfect dark reflection of the usual rags-to-riches story in how he embodies Cassius, while Tessa Thompson acts as the smooth and cool moral center of the story. Also worth mention is Armie Hammer as the head of a corporation that is “revolutionizing” wage labor, who carries the perfect balance of malicious intent and self-absorbed obliviousness to human suffering. These performances coalesce around a satirical masterpiece that constantly surprises both in the moment with its comic barbs and perpetually self-heightening twists.
   Sorry To Bother You is not going to be for everyone. It’s a weird movie, with moments of surreality that crank up to eleven before blasting past the limits of quantifiable oddity. But Boots Riley isn’t horsing around; every choice is intentional and full of purpose, with comedy and metaphor acting as his weapons of choice. There really isn’t anything else like Sorry To Bother You, and that alone would make it noteworthy. The fact that it hits the landing so hard is what will propel the film to cult classic status.

5/5 stars
Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.