Boots Riley’s rambunctious and otherworldly film, Sorry To Bother You is succinct, poignant, and brash. The film stars Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, two actors who are well versed in the film’s niche crossover-genre of afro-futuristic comedic social commentary. Stanfield’s most recent work is on Donald Glover’s Atlanta, a black surrealist comedy that is quite possibly the best show on television today. In addition, Thompson’s most recent roles have been in Janelle Monáe’s afro-futuristic emotion picture, Dirty Computer, and the science fiction television odyssey, Westworld (which is simultaneously the most confusing and rewarding show on television).
[slight spoilers ahead]
The film follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), an achingly average everyday man who is strapped for cash, on his journey in the telemarketing industry. Without giving too much away, Cassius discovers that the telemarketers who make the real money sell weaponry to foreign countries and mass labor among other products. To reach the top of the telemarketer hierarchy, Cassius uses his “white voice,” as taught to him by Langston (Danny Glover), and gets invited to a party hosted by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the founder of WorryFree. WorryFree essentially guarantees people housing and food for life in exchange for working in a factory, take from that once you will. While at the party, Cassius discovers a bombshell secret that threatens to implode the company. At the same time, protests for unions and higher wages at LegalView (the telemarketing company) start to intensify. The protests are led by Squeeze (Steven Yeun), Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), and soon everything climaxes with an epic showdown between protestors, security, and more. I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I’ll end the synopsis here.
Sorry To Bother You is a radical satire and critique of the unique and specific relationship between being black in American and American capitalism. Boots Riley maneuvers through the nuances of this relationship and explores each component as independent entities with a stark comedic lens. Riley can at once capture the particularity of black male dialogue while fearlessly attacking the most prominent economic system in the world. Sorry To Bother You was filmed in Oakland, California, where the film is also set; the location only accentuates the harsh realities of blackness and how damaging and effective code-switching can be. The single best thing about Sorry To Bother You is the film’s use of humor. Humor is utilized as a way to introduce radical ideas about reformation, evaluate the morality and ethics of capitalism, and offset the more fantastical sci-fi moments. The film is self-aware of its fluidity in terms of genre and uses that to its advantage. Riley uses the liberation of Afrofuturism and combines it with the disarming nature of comedy and the societal mirror that is science-fiction to create a film that truly tackles who we are as people. Sorry To Bother You questions humanity in the most basic, and complicated, ways. Nevertheless, at times, the film starts to crack under its own weight. For example, too many of Detroit’s (Thompson) actions read as a device for the development or evolution of a male character. At times, parts of her character seem to far outside the realm of possibility, even for a movie as eccentric of bold as Sorry To Bother You.
Sorry To Bother You is an easy “must see” for this summer and if you have any interest in film at all. See it multiple times if you can and just sit and think about it. The movie wants to irk you and gross you out and make you feel guilty and fearless, so let it.