Director: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson
This film looked great on paper, but somewhere in its execution and especially in its third act, the film is wrecked by overambition and an unearned absurdity. Sorry to Bother You truly separates itself from the masses; it is truly impossible to categorize it in the likes of stoner films, black comedies, racial or political satire, or yes, even science fiction. In this review I’m not try to discredit nor discourage the directorial aspirations of musician Boots Riley, as there is true potential within the screenplay and direction of Sorry to Bother You, but I do find its overreaching to be very much apparent. Maybe it’s just me—It’s getting rave reviews and crowd approval, but to me it was more of an experimental first draft than a final product.
Sorry to Bother You takes place… somewhere. It looks like our world, talks like our world, and (usually, at first) acts like our world but something’s off. Maybe its somewhere when the charismatic liar whose falsities are put on the spot is given a job anyway. But it’s done in good comedy, and after the humorous introduction that brings slapstick and an overconfident absurd nature, you’re ready to roll with it and immerse yourself. I’m not holding the opening sequence against this film, it was off to a good start, but its remainder doesn’t live up to it.
The otherworldly accusation truly holds water, in that its hero—Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield)—finds himself caught up in the middle between a conspiracy to enforce a bizarre modernized slavery, and a group of radicals trying to stop them. Somehow he got here after using a “white voice” (David Cross) to excel in his new telemarking job. Aside from this, he is a slacker with a live-in girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) who pays rent to live in his uncle’s garage.
I feel the main selling point (for me at least) to see this movie was a narrative tactic shown in the trailer. When Cash is going through the numbers as a telemarketer attempting to sell to people, we would see him and his desk drop into the room with the potential clients, exploiting the awkwardness and discomfort of his being put on the spot. If the rest of the film had shown this creative prowess, this would likely be a more positive perspective. However, a good portion of the direction in this film is otherwise bland and unexciting. The world and its exploitation of a new age of slave labor was certainly fascinating, but it is only explored on a surface level. A few scenes scenes had some humor, even if some of it didn’t quite land, and you enjoy the endurances and attempts to both climb the ladder and rebel against authority that Cash undergoes. He’s torn between the worlds of corporation and that of the union, which, when done well, can make for a decent film.
Frankly, for the first two thirds of the film, I thought it was alright, if not a little boring and uninspired. Then however there’s a scene in which Cash goes to the bathroom that pulls the rug out from under this film, a move so utterly obscure that I’d be applauding it if I had felt it were properly earned. I’m not blind to its satire and the ideas its parodying, but I’m damned if I realize how its worthy of praise.
Honestly, I believe anyone thoroughly interested in cinema, especially in screenwriting, should give this one a shot and form their own opinions. Maybe it’ll strike a better chord with them then it did with me. But for me, my only takeaway was that this film was a few cards short of a deck. This is not an attack on “weird” or absurdist films. I rejoiced over The Lobster as much as anyone. But what The Lobster has in skills of universality, tone, and character-building are all things that Sorry to Bother You is missing.