Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick
Director: Boots Riley
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe of “powercalling” that leads to material glory. But the upswing in Cassius’ career raises serious red flags with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist and minimum-wage striver who’s secretly part of a Banksy-style activist collective. As his friends and co-workers organize in protest of corporate oppression, Cassius falls under the spell of his company’s cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.
Let me start off by saying Sorry to Bother You might be one of the most important films released in 2018. Very few films have the ability to combine political and social commentary while still maintaining a high level of humor like this movie, and Sorry to Bother You nails all of those categories. While the absurdity of the film could be a turn off for some, if you can make it through the shocking moments you will be left with one of the smartest, most thought-provoking films in recent memory.
The film follows Cassius Green (Stanfield), a struggling man in Oakland who takes a job as a telemarketer so he can help pay his bills and support his girlfriend Detroit’s (Thompson) art career. Early on in his time as a telemarketer, Cassius learns from Langston (Danny Glover), a fellow black employee that if he wants to succeed at the role, Cassius will have to use his, “white voice.” As tensions between the low-level telemarketers and mid-level management flair and Cassius becomes the top salesman in his role, he is put in an uncomfortable position between doing what is right morally and doing what is right financially. Who knew that a film about telemarketing in Oakland could tell such a profound and deeply relevant story. This film tackles the question, “if you are a minority, at what point does your status surpass your race?” When Cassius gets promoted, he told that in his new role, he can only use his, “white voice,” even when he is not on calls with his clients. The presence of the white voice plays a key role in showing us that one of the only ways for poor black people to get ahead financially is to reject their blackness and embrace what a predominantly white society tells them is acceptable. Even when Cassius code switches and embraces his white voice, he is still treated as the token minority and forced to rap at a house party by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), a CEO from one of Cassius’ clients. While this scene is by far the funniest scene in the movie, it also brilliantly illustrates the point that even when minorities embrace their, “whiteness,” society is set up for them to never get past the color of their skin. These themes were talked about by Jay Z in his song, “The story of O.J.,” from 2016 and I felt as though there was connection between the two forms of media even though the two do not directly interact with one another. Outside of race relations, the film successfully shows us just how we react in society and how we teach our fellow human. The most watched show in the country is called, “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!,” where the audience watches people go through physical pain for some sort of prize. On top of this, Cassius becomes a viral sensation after a video of him getting hit with a soda can goes widespread at Cassius’ personal expense. There are many other examples throughout the movie, but it truly drives home the point that we as a society have transitioned from one where we help one another succeed to one where we only care about our personal satisfaction with no regard for the wellbeing of others. The story flawlessly combines these two important critiques of our society and merges them into one movie where the consequences of our actions are on full display. For elements outside of the story, the acting is absolutely superb from all of the actors. Stanfield thrives in the lead role and finds a way to give both an empathic and comedic performance that perfectly captures the mood and message of the movie. Of the supporting actors, Hammer crushes his role of the egomaniac CEO who provides his workers with free food and housing in exchange for a lifetime work contract and only cares about himself and improving his own life. Hammer has such a unique energy as an actor and it is on full display in this role. These performances plus that of the rest of the supporting actors make Sorry to Bother You one of the most uniquely fascinating films to come out this year.
Overall, Sorry to Bother You is the type of film that I think everyone should see, but due to its low-budget and limited release so far, most people will not see it. That is a shame, because very few movies have the ability to make you laugh, think, and ask yourself, “what did I just watch?,” like this one. It may not be the most subtle film of all time, but first time director Boots Riley has struck gold with Sorry to Bother You and I look forward to seeing if he can generate more success in the future.
Overall Score: 8.5/10