“Sorry to Bother You” (2018): Well That Was Unexpected (Review)
Very seldom am I ever surprised by a movie. Unfortunately with the way trailers are cut, reviews are written, and spoilers are posted, it is increasingly difficult to avoid not knowing a good chunk about a movie before you plop your ass in a theater seat. So when something comes along that finds me dumbfounded and amused, I appreciate it even more. Luckily, with Sorry to Bother You, the shock factor is not just a gimmick, but the result of a descent in to absurdity that only builds upon the world inside.
Sorry to Bother You follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a down-on-his-luck dude looking for a job to provide for and impress his eccentric fiancé (Tessa Thompson). Cash gets hired on as a telemarketer for a company called Regal View and quickly learns the best way to make money is to use his “white voice” and stick to the script (his white voice is David Cross). His success is noticed and he is soon promoted to a Power Caller, one of the upstairs telemarketers who are known for their secrecy and money-making abilities. It is at this level that Cash begins to see the world a bit differently as the curtain is pulled back on the world of the powerful and wealthy.
The world of Sorry to Bother You is not too much unlike our own, albeit much more exaggerated and strange. On its surface, it is a true comedy with a shiny gloss of absurdity. Yet as you begin to peel back the layers, the bizarre is more easily accepted as the parallels to our own world emerge. As things get stranger, our mind allows it as we fully commit to the going further down the rabbit hole with Cash. Perhaps this is where the film shines in that the descent in to absurdity is obvious, yet gradual. First-time director Boots Riley does not force his social commentary upon the viewer immediately, but instead lets the obviousness of it unravel in a way very few first-timers manage to do. We know we are in for a ride and feel equipped to handle whatever comes our way, but Sorry to Bother You pushes us even further past our own expectations. And it’s brilliant for it.
It should also be mentioned that a gonzo film such as this does not find success by simply having a wild idea. To sell the absurdity, you need talent in front of the camera. Sorry to Bother You succeeds on that front and features a wild cast of performances that have to keep up with the ridiculousness of the plot and the world created. Lakeith Stanfield, who has impressed many on Atlanta and in a tiny, yet important, role in Get Out, shines as Cash. He is a quiet and reserved individual whose anxiety and paranoia mirror the audience’s own disbelief. We are on this adventure with him and his unraveling of truths are our own. His performance is subtle when it needs to be and exaggerated when necessary and his see-sawing of emotions rise and fall like a giant WTF roller coaster. Tessa Thompson is impressive as well, anchoring Cash to the real world and giving him motivation to do good and be good. Yet, her character does not have a lot to do besides parading around in her underwear and seemingly filling the role of a manic pixie dream girl that everyone around her wants to be or wants to fuck. But one of the best surprising performances of the film is that of Armie Hammer, who plays the CEO of a big-picture-perfect-world company called WorryFree. Hammer is an eccentric billionaire with too much power and even more cocaine and sells his chaos with a wild grin plastered across his chiseled chin. His larger-than-life persona he has created would normally be hard to believe, but in the world of Sorry to Bother You, it fits.
Sorry to Bother You takes a world we are too familiar with, where stupid game shows are one of the most watched television shows and where the new “it-thing” to do is to protest big corporations, moreso to be a part of something than an actual proponent for change. Where celebrity is the most important status one can achieve, even if it means selling out on your beliefs. Where working long hours every day to make money to pay for things you could never really afford to begin with is more important than saving for a future. Where evil is not only accepted, but rewarded with fame and fortune. Where society begins to accept something fundamentally wrong, simply because the problem is much easier to put up with than to fight. We live in a world full of bright colors and loud noises that only distract from the underlying truths that far too many of us refuse to believe exist. So in the end, Sorry to Bother You really is our story and may not be quite as exaggerated as we may think.
The Good: a brand-new talent with a unique vision making exactly the film he wants to make
The Better: a talented cast that sells the absurdity and takes us on a ridiculous ride through an all-too-familiar world
The Scary: the social commentary is spot-on in its message and warns us of a not-so exaggerated future that may be in store for us