Sorry to Bother You Review | BAMcinemaFest 2018
R: Pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use
Annapurna Pictures, MACRO
1 Hr and 45 Minutes
Writer & Dir: Boots Riley
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer
Sometimes, after you watch a weird movie, you wonder, “What the fuck did I just watch?” The last film where I can recall those words were uttered under my breath was in 2016 after I watched “Swiss Army Man”. But I don’t think any film can be as bold, absurd, and stylish as “Sorry to Bother You” which initially I personally hated once I walked out of it (as in I was thinking a huge 2/5 star rating). But as the days went by, some sequences just became ingrained into my skull and I found myself laughing over how clever some elements were. Besides, in the crazy ass world we live in now, this film seems to be just right on point with everything going on in our society.
In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe.
For “Sorry to Bother You” being the directorial debut for rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley, the film is without a doubt his magnum opus. From the very beginning to the end, Riley stylistically sets the tone of his own world and creates his own set of rules by primarily showing off how lawless this world is. The story starts off light and silly but where it goes is absolutely nothing you would expect, especially if you’re going by the trailers. You think this movie is mostly about black people using a white voice to get up in the world of the working class, but boy are you wrong. Shit, as bizarre as that is, that is just the basis of the first act. From there on out, you are treated to surreal and creative discussions centered on American labor, consummerism, race, wealth, fame, and so much more.
Seriously, you can only come off as a snobby pretentious asshole if you leave this movie and say, “THIS WAS SO PREDICTABLE”. I will respond with
Whether you love where the story goes or you don’t, everyone has to admit how wildly original the overall film is. Believe me, I tried to predict where this story was going and it defied my expectations by making nothing but left turns that were so shockingly odd but bold while maintaining this consistent tone. “Sorry to Bother You” unapologetically embraces its own absurdity and never loses sight of the its irreverent tone. Just like ogres, this narrative has layers, and with each layer is a more insane outlook on the various topics relevant to America today.
One of my favorite moments is how subtly the film talks about fame without addressing it. There is a sequence where Cash is in the center of a riot and he’s hit in the head with a soda can by a woman. A little bit later, you see the woman who hit him in the head become a cultural phenomenon and it’s strange how that happens today with just one little action a person does. From the “Cash Me Outside” girl becoming famous after being a little shit on Dr. Phil to the Walmart kid performing at Coachella after yodeling in a Walmart. It’s one of the only moments where the movie’s surrealness gets real.
What elevates the overall story is Riley’s style. Rarely you would get a film as visual as this, but with nearly every minute, Riley is doing something visually innovative with his direction. At a certain point you just immerse yourself into this crazy world Riley has created, for he manages to do a sizable amount of creative twists and turns with his visuals that keep you engaged. Even if the story doesn’t work for you, there is enough chaos happening on screen to keep you from turning away.
For everything that’s going on in the story, the number one thing I just couldn’t seem to stand throughout were the characters. It’s not that the characters aren’t written well, because they do have personalities, but they’re mostly one note and unlikable; it’s primarily their actions that make them really unlikeable. Tessa Thompson has been a harrowing force of nature with the many films I’ve seen her in as of recent, and here she is a manic pixie dream girl who really bothered me throughout the movie. She just did actions that pretty much benefitted herself while hurting the people she loves along the way. There is a love triangle between her character (Detroit), Stanfield’s (Cash), and Yeun’s (Squeeze) and there is no resolution to it at all.
The film is helmed by Lakeith Stanfield and unfortunately his work doesn’t carry the film for he looks absent minded all the way through. Usually, Stanfield looks absent minded in the roles he’s in and sometimes it works in his favor, primarily Darius in “Atlanta”, but for a film as absurd as this, he’s a bit too grounded for being a participant to all the estranged insanity. His character Cash is pretty much Darius minus the character’s distinct charm and hilarious one liners. But then you realize that Stanfield does have range, for he’s branched out in roles where he isn’t just playing a variation of Darius. I can easily bring up “Get Out” but go watch “Crown Heights” where he plays a man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and his performance carries the movie in a way where it shows off his range. The only time I felt for this character is when he’s put into a very uncomfortable situation that a lot of people of color go through at social settings, but that was it. That was one of the only times the film had a real sense of characterization and emotion from all the madness.
9One of my biggest gripes against the film is the numerous amount of trailer moments the movie itself has than a constructive narrative. The lack of constructive narrative is part of the film’s charm where it is more centered on Cash’s life going through a rollercoaster ride and you’re witnessing it with him, but for the most part, the movie loses itself within its own magic for you get sequences and random scenes of characters doing various things that don’t progress the story, BUT IT LOOKS SO COOL WHEN YOU PUT IT IN A TRAILER. Boots Riley had a toolbox to work with and somehow he ended up at the stable (LITERALLY).
While I’ve come to understand the social undertones and come to terms with how it was visually presented, “Sorry to Bother You” to me moved like an overdrawn Tim & Eric sketch. It’s far more clever than Tim & Eric is, but most of the time it didn’t feel like a movie than it did as a variation of sketches due to the many messages the film is trying to convey. The main issue I have with “Sorry to Bother You” is the fact that Riley is biting off way more than he can chew, for the film tackles various topics but never fully commits to one until there is a drastic shift in story by the time it gets to the third act. While it tackles different themes with sensible yet absurd ways it never follows through with the topic it wants to talk about.
Stylish, bold, original, and more fearless than most films are today, “Sorry to Bother You” offers more style than substance for it’s satirical aspects tackle way more topics than it can handle.
Rating: 3/5 | 69%
Super Scene: Aggressive compliments