Lately, cinema has derived viewership from issues currently faced in society today. One of the best examples of this technique is last year’s surprise hit Get Out, which shares physical similarities with this one. They both star Lakeith Stanfield, tackle social and racial stereotypes and are directorial debuts from well-known icons of modern African-American culture. Sorry to Bother You is an odd story to tell for a first-time director, but it works particularly well because he’s versed in the source material.
Stanfield plays the role of Cassius “Cash” Green, a man living in a fictional Oakland with his girlfriend. Desperate for a job, he lands one at a company called RegalView, who sell encyclopedias. When an older coworker teachers Cash to use his “white voice” to sell to customers. Soon, he is promoted to the mysterious occupation of “Power Caller” and uncovers a shocking truth about the company they sell for. If you think you know what happens, you don’t. This is easily the craziest and weirdest movie I’ve seen in eons.
The outlook this film has on social life in America is really intriguing. It starts out as a rags-to-riches story and stays that way for a while. As Cash starts climbing the ranks at RegalView, he begins to lose a sense of interest in others and uniqueness in himself. It’s when he meets Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the CEO of WorryFree when things get weird. WorryFree makes its money by promising a lifetime of free-living in exchange for a lifetime of labor. While that’s already bad enough, WorryFree is working on advancing the labor force in the most inhuman way possible.
Lift is one of the best parts of the movie, taking on the role with such panache and finesse that at points he becomes more compelling than the leads themselves. Nowadays, it’s easy to spot a bad villain. Usually, you can tell based on how they go about accomplishing their goals, or how they can relate to the viewer. Lift certainly doesn’t get as much screentime as one would expect, but his way of laying out the objective is truly hilarious. If Hammer didn’t bring as much charisma as he does, this character probably wouldn’t have worked, but he does and it did.
Tessa Thompson’s quirky, artistic Detroit is the real scene-stealer, though. Thompson has been popping up everywhere recently, appearing in Creed, Annihilation, and most popularly Thor: Ragnarok. But it’s here where she truly brings it, relying fully on artistic expression and a highly functioning sense of morality. Having these traits already allows her to be the most interesting character in the film, but it’s the scenes where you see her truly stand out among the masses that deserve the most appreciation.
I only had one main issue with Sorry to Bother You, and it really isn’t that big of one. The film, at points, does feel like it isn’t sure where it’s going. There are a few minor scenes that serve as exposition and there are also ones that leave a sense of forgettability. The movie also does take a little too long to reach what it’s been building up to. Fortunately, once it does, that’s when the film just goes full bonkers and becomes the epitome of awesome.
By the end of the film, I was left wanting so much more–in a good way. The way the story flows is very smooth and inventive, truly capturing the essence of what separates this world from the real one. It’s a fantastical work of art and manages to outdo its competition by engrossing the viewer, leading them to believe something, and then pulling the ol’ bait-and-switch in the greatest way possible. Go in expecting nothing, and you will come out wholly satisfied.
Sorry to Bother You is a stunning achievement in storytelling. By continuing to integrate political subtexts into their films, independent directors are knowingly giving audiences exactly what they need. Strip away the captivating narrative, though, and you still have a wondrous cast of characters with wholly unique personalities and morals. It’s a dark satire, one that is completely and utterly riveting in full, despite one or two minor flaws that can easily be looked past.
Sorry to Bother You stars Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer. Directed by Boots Riley.