A down-on-his-luck telemarketer, Cassius Green, has his existence rewired when his very own reality is brought into question after he scores a promotion at work.
Sorry to bother you, but here’s my rather late review of Boots Riley’s breakout Arthouse flick, Sorry to Bother You. Quite possibly one of my most anticipated films of 2018, Sorry to Bother You was a complex, layered beast that dealt with concepts that largely revolved around capitalism whilst highlighting African American talent at its finest. The word ‘unique’ probably would not be enough to describe this film in full as Sorry to Bother You was a mad, cray cray, whack experience at the cinema for which escalated with every damn scene and, to be frank, almost sent me crazy.
For context, Sorry to Bother You had me sold on its concept of an African American telemarketer who found success in the manipulation of his quite literal “white voice” … although, that concept appeared as not much a ‘concept’ in Sorry to Bother You, but more a gimmick for the film’s first half. Sorry to Bother You packed itself with layers upon layers of obscure and surreal metaphorical ‘who-ha’ that really alternated my opinion of the film with every line spoken and every action committed. After a while into the film, the telemarketer angle really just proved to be a starter, with the main course awaiting just around the corner. To tell you the truth, I don’t even think my core ideas on Boots Riley’s debut are completely set in stone and therefore I enter this review with slight hesitance. I guess the main takeaway I have from Sorry to Bother You would be that the film is one meant for multiple viewings; this film contained elements of pure genius for which must be assessed after thorough exploration of the film’s visuals and dialogue. Sorry to Bother You was a masterstroke in certain terms, but I could not say the film lived up to all my expectations (as it should not totally aspire to) or fill my needs completely as a hungry viewer…
In all honesty, I found Sorry to Bother You to be a bit boring at first. Sure, the film begun with a fascinating and creative angle of a black guy with a white voice and his ascension to power and the American Dream, but the screenplay and general narrative never fully treated said fascinating and creative angle as an intriguing concept. Sorry to Bother You tried packing in so much weird sh*t to metaphorically and symbolically tell a cautionary tale on capitalism, modern day slavery, corporate greed and ‘selling out’ with specific, unrelenting views on politics and social issues, but never quite understood exactly what it already had on its hands – a good concept. In fact, the film appeared full of smart and humorous concepts as it never entirely felt like they all gelled well together or all satisfyingly fit in ample glory. Sorry to Bother You may have been a film that evolved with each scene (which is always applause worthy), but it still felt like a first-time filmmaker’s effort. This piece of absurdist art was a deep, thought-provoking platform for first-time film auteur, Riley, to preach heavy ideas for which have clearly been on his mind for ages, though as much as Riley’s ideas of thematics and creativity were incredible in scope and genius, his (for lack of a better term) ‘rookie’ status showed in how he ultimately translated his ideas evenly and paced it all well. Sorry to Bother You was an extremely complex and dense film, to which I understand many people will enjoy, but personally I felt overwhelmed and not entirely attached to the events that unfolded due to the film’s inability to really savour its best parts and instead implore a need to fit in all its preachy ideas.
Sorry to Bother You also came off as a bit heavy handed to which parts of the movie, especially in its first half, felt like it allowed the characters to blatantly just say exactly what the general meaning of the film was without much subtlety. Again, this takes me back to my feelings on the first half of Sorry to Bother You to which I never felt entirely engaged as the film could have, at first, been literally the black version of The Office but written and directed by Charlie Kaufman… although, that sounded way cooler than it actually was. Yet, come a certain party sequence, almost halfway into the film, I really begun to commit to my enjoyment of Sorry to Bother You. You will know the sequence I am talking about when you see it, but Sorry to Bother You went from mid-tier Kaufman to absurd, ingenious BoJack Horseman in a matter of minutes. From said sequence on, I was completely wrapped up in Riley’s Arthouse debut.
I do not want to sound like I hated this film, because I definitely did not. I was not in love with Sorry to Bother You as I hoped I would be, but I was indeed impressed. I had respect for the film on many levels, but I could not say everything worked for me and I admit I need a second viewing. Though on certain positives I had with the film, I really loved Riley’s visual style and his knack for humour. If anything with Sorry to Bother You, Riley proved himself to be a very niche, weird, comedic artist with a flair for finding the darkly comical elements of uncharted territory. The crazy turns taken by the narrative of Sorry to Bother You had the film border so well on the horrifying and the humorous. Based on tone and mood alone (no thematics) Sorry to Bother You, later in the film, really gave me Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared and Too Many Cooks vibes – everything appeared bright, colourful, vibrant and, most importantly, surreal, but also hauntingly familiar and too close to reality to totally surrender to for amusement purposes. For the way it essentially flaunted itself, Sorry to Bother You really worked in its search for a unique and absurd flavour.
None of the cast could be faltered as Lakeith Stanfield incredibly led an assemble that shun under the wings of Riley with definite standouts including Steven Yeun, a hilarious Armie Hammer and the always excellent white man’s voice of David Cross. My favourite would yet again have to be Tessa Thompson whom, hot off the heels of Annihilation and Creed II also being released in the calendar year, has grown to become a favourite actor of mine, with her turn in Sorry to Bother You only cementing her placement. On technical aspects as well, the cinematography and score were near perfect in achieving the central style of this film. The production of Sorry to Bother You and its accompanying art design also so distinctively allowed the film to invent new and exciting ways to create a scene or construct a moment of dialogue. The costuming as well (boy howdy, give an Academy Award to whomever made the earrings Tessa Thompson wore throughout the film) was just divine, as was the make-up and hairstylings that gave much needed character to the feature, making Sorry to Bother You even more memorable and visually distinctive as opposed to other films. OH, OH, OH and the prosthetics… wow, were they just incredible.
I guess if anything, the dark comedy that was Sorry to Bother You was more a film that pleaded with its audience to divulge meaning through atmosphere and individual happenings rather than watch as the unfolding of a cohesive, formulaic narrative. Sorry to Bother You, as I said before, appeared as a film with a lot to say and, for the most half, managed its time well to say it. Personally, I have no huge opinion on film themes when they essentially preach about ideas as large as capitalism as I generally just do not find great attachment to larger ideas as opposed to the more intimate ones. I enjoy reading films and their themes in relation to the characters, their relationships and further emotions. For me, Sorry to Bother You appeared so layered and in-depth that it could have been interpreted from every conceivable angle – big or small. Despite feeling that my approach to analysing is a bit stripped down compared to completely deconstructing something as large as capitalism, I do feel Sorry to Bother You had something to offer in the way of personal growth between characters and their ideologies. For example, what I learnt from the film was the essential idea that in life there’s an easy way and hard way of doing things, for which both carry consequences.
Sorry to Bother You saw its film’s protagonist, Cassius, take life’s easiest route, by conversing with the bigger fish and, in turn, relaxing into a life of luxury and success as opposed to fighting on the ground floor for justice and equality. Though making a deal with the devil eventually reveals its true colours as Cassius’s decision forced him to shed those closest to him, whilst allowing himself to be subjected to stereotyping, undergoing a beastly character transformation – quite literally selling his soul (it also helps that the name Cassius in Latin means ‘vain’ to which the protagonist really begun to embody such a trait as the film continued). And so, as you may have noticed, the more personal meanings I’ve managed to derive from Sorry to Bother You can then further apply to the bigger meanings at play. Riley quite literally and visually showed his audience his thoughts on sideliners and sell-outs through the character of Cassius. Baring in mind, all this is set against the backdrop of visible slavery in capitalism, with the liberation of slaves almost being portrayed as redundant in Riley’s eyes due to the mere fact, that at the end of the day, “The Man” will always win this eternal struggle society continues to battle. So what are we left to do but rage against the machine… even after our responsive actions cause a complete derailment from sensible society.
On that point too, speaking of derailment: a minor nugget and final big FU Riley gives to capitalism through the film can be found in Sorry To Bother You‘s reoccurring phrase – “Stick to the Script”. Capitalism adheres to a formula similar to how a film does to a script and with Sorry To Bother You‘s rebellious push against capitalism, only organically does the narrative also push against the natural progression, tropes and traditional storytelling of a film. Not to say Sorry To Bother You strays from its exact script (the screenplay did in fact feel detailed and well planned out) but what I mean is that film quite literally denied any chance of following similar patterns to any other film from its genres. The film’s rebellious nature reflects the themes rebellious stance of its filmmaker, therefore allowing Riley to subconsciously rewire his audiences mindset to coincide with his own. Derailment from the traditional script of cinematic storytelling for which has imprisoned our minds for decades is equally derailment from the agenda of “The Man” we oppose every single day. Complete departure from the reality we’ve been forced to succumb to eventually leads to the embracing of the zany, weird and free conscious mind state that bares no resemblance to the script of daily life – for our greatest weapon against the denial of basic human rights is our ability to express through freedom of speech.
I certainly thought Sorry to Bother You was a compelling watch, maybe not from start to finish, but at the very least thematically throughout. Entertainment levels varied and the film worked best at its most obscure, but come the curtain close, Boots Riley emerges as one of our most promising and curious up-and-coming filmmakers. I could not recommend Sorry to Bother You entirely, unless you’re a real film nerd, but if you’re willing to try something different and more surreal, then by all means revel in this bonkers exploration of a never-ending hallucination from some alternative universe. This film is insanity that somehow retained the term ‘sanity’, buried deep deep – so very deep – within.
Sorry to Bother You is a bloody… CRUSADE!!
- BLT Communications, LLC, 2018, Sorry To Bother You (2018), IMP Awards, TMDb, viewed 14 December 2018, <http://www.impawards.com/2018/sorry_to_bother_you_ver10.html> (Featured Image)
- Serpell, N, 2018, ‘Sorry to Bother You’: Boots Riley’s Trojan Horseplay, NYR Daily, NYREV Inc., viewed 17 December 2018, <https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/07/21/sorry-to-bother-you-boots-rileys-trojan-horseplay/>