When we first meet Cassius Green, (Lakeith Stanfield, Short Term 12, Atlanta) he’s ruminating on the purpose of his life while lying on a makeshift bed in his uncle’s garage. The only support he has in his life is his artist girlfriend, Detroit, (Tessa Thompson Creed, Thor: Ragnarok), whose idealistic worldview is unlikely to postpone his looming eviction if he can’t find gainful employment. This initial setting for Boots Riley’s debut Sorry to Bother You appears existential, with a focus on questioning self-worth and alack of achievement, given the film’s incredulous reviews upon first release back in July of this year. Now five months later, and just in time for Christmas, Riley’s anti-capitalist masterpiece has made it across the ocean and is ready to shock a new audience with its politicised surrealism.
The setting of Sorry to Bother You soon reveals itself as a twisted reflection of modern America where the TV show “I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me” rules the airwaves, and the corporation Worryfree Living offers an institutionalised escape from the terror of everyday life. Once Cassius finds himself in the working world he’s battling just to survive, as every call he puts through in his telemarketing job hangs up with no explanation. That is, until his colleague Langston, DannyGlover, having overheard Cassius’ earnest attempts informs him that to get anywhere he needs to find his “white voice” to sell anything. This idea coming from Boots Riley’s time working as a telemarketer, where he would find himself suppressing his mannerisms to succeed. Mirrored in the film by Cassius’ progression to a power caller position, achieved through surrendering his own heritage. A choice that alienates him from his newly unionised co-workers who see his success as moralistic abandonment.
To reveal anymore of the film’s plot would take away from the incendiary way its chaotic nature unfolds. It’s a very deftly crafted film, that never over exerts itself in explaining the subjects of its satire, except for one plot point that is gloriously furious and blunt in its delivery. The surrealistic nature mentioned earlier reveals itself fully in the second half of the film, as the debauchery of the upperclass is shown in brutally contradictory fashion to the struggle faced by their workers. Both sides are connected by Cassius, a clueless vehicle for the audience to manifest themselves in, caught in a struggle of self-value versus success. Lakeith Stanfield manages to portray this role with grace, proving he can manage the deft comedic timing seen in Atlanta while tackling an emotionally complex role. The whole cast do a good job in building a sense of characterisation in their short screen times, testament to Riley’s tight script, but none bar Armie Hammer as a coke-snorting white Jesus CEO can fully challenge Stanfield’s performance.
There will be people who despise Sorry to Bother You on the grounds of its absurdist comedy, and flagrant political position. Yet, it’s unlikely that this will bother Boots Riley much, as what he has crafted here is a very funny, very angry, and very personal piece of cinema. Sorry to Bother You takes on some challenging topics but does so without becoming pious in nature and while retaining a dark sense of humour that escalates to unbelievable levels. There have been many interesting films released this year, but none with the relevancy or style of Sorry to Bother You.