Sorry to Bother You
With strong performances by Stanfield and Thompson, compelling characters and surrealistic plot, film struggles with identity crisis and weird plot evolution.
In a Summer dominated with needless sequels (“Ocean’s 8“, for example) and unoriginal ideas, another independent film feels like very much needed fresh breath of air. On top of offering unique story and colorful direction, “Sorry to Bother You” uses satire to deliver its social message.
In reality where borderline slavery company WorryFree offers employment for freedom. But Cash Green is more than that. He might be broke, living in the garage of his uncle, for which he owns four months’ worth of rent, drives a car that looks more like a wheelbarrow, but he is proud. He wants to find his voice and laments to his girlfriend – eccentric street artist Detroit – about what kind of legacy he will leave on Earth. But in the meantime, he has to make ends meet, so he is super excited to start a new job of telemarketer at RegalView company. And maybe, if he does a lot of sales, he can be promoted to be enigmatic telemarketer VIP, called “power callers”. But in the beginning, he struggles with the job. Until an old man in the company tells him to use his inner “white voice”. And suddenly Cash becomes the best employee of the company, quickly rising through the ranks. But success, doesn’t come easy.
The whole premise of the film is a social message. From the opening scene all the way to the end, everything that happens occurs for this particular reason. And writer Boots Riley does strike a gold mine here. Main premise of the film is that no one listens to an African-American man, his voice is not something that incites trust. So he resorts to use his inner “white voice” – voice of a person who has no debt and was never been stopped by police. And once he starts using it, Cash sees how doors automatically opens in front of him.
And social messages are not exclusively situational. There are numerous instances of social message slipping through just visuals of the film. From Detroit’s weird earrings and t-shirts, to subtle jokes like best whiskey, etc. film is full of these little nuances, that I am sure would make rewatch a wonderful experience. But unfortunately, these subtleties are sometimes ruined by the big picture, which is too much on the nose. In some instances, it feels like Riley is force feeding us his ideas. It just doesn’t feel that natural and even acts as a deterrent.
Film also struggles from identity crisis. “Sorry to Bother You” walks on the edge of being surreal and real, but it just doesn’t stay there. Events become farcical, but then jump back to being all serious. And when you expect for film to become comical and ridiculous, it makes a turn and becomes weird and awkward. Film bounces from being “too satirical” to “not enough satirical” in a matter of seconds. This constant shift in the tone I found a little confusing and at times just pointless.
I also didn’t enjoy the plot evolution. “Sorry to Bother You” fills like a collection of short films, hastily stitched together. Multiple plotlines, though complementing each other, don’t have much in common. In the middle, story shifts from personal perspective to global and then suddenly back to personal. Taking into account the tone of the film, it was quite unexpected to me.
Though I did enjoy directing of Boots Riley, I think he missed a great opportunity to deliver truly revolutionary film. “Sorry to Bother You” uses several editing and style techniques of weird cuts for surrealistic effect. For a while, film reminded me works of Terry Gilliam, Charlie Kaufman or Michel Gondry. Going back to the tonal shifts I mentioned earlier, Riley never capitalizes on that. Instead of making cuts and storytelling crazier and weirder, he resorts in making it actually calmer and more classical as film progresses. I wish instead he doubled down.
Lakeith Stanfield plays Cash. He feels so natural in that role that I am not sure if he is an amazing actor or just acting department did a great job. Nevertheless, he is totally believable, likeable, relatable character that you just want to root for. Tessa Thompson plays a free-spirited and independent Detroit and is equally a wonder to watch. She is no stranger to strong female roles, but she manages to bring something quite different from her roles in “Thor: Ragnarok”, “Annihilation” or “Westworld”. Supporting cast includes Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick and Steven Yeun in quite one-dimensional characters, who they play satisfactorily. I was quite perplexed with Armie Hammer‘s character, whom he either overacts or underacts.
Full with social commentary and satire, “Sorry to Bother You” is a film that will make you laugh and think at the same time. With strong performances by Stanfield and Thompson, compelling characters and surrealistic plot, film still struggles with identity crisis and weird plot evolution.