‘Sorry to Bother You’ is a fantastical sort of voyage. Boots Riley (Director) gives us a familiar story of economic and social oppression. He just comes at it from a delightfully odd angle. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) needs a job, badly, so badly he’s made a fake employee of the month plaque and a high school sports trophy to take with him on interviews. He’s at one now; he has both props with him. It’s obvious they're fakes but he gets the job anyway. The hiring manager likes his initiative. He’ll also hire anyone with a pulse, who can make cold calls.
It’s at this very call center where Cassius learns to harness the power of his “white voice.” Langston (Danny Glover), one of the elders at the call center, teaches him about the benefits of knowing exactly when and how to employ his talents. If Cassius can learn fast enough, he might get promoted. He could even become a powercaller. In this dystopian version of modern-day Oakland, a powercaller is a big dog. They push so much “product” that they actually make the world go ‘round. They’re telemarketing gods.
‘Sorry to Bother You’ is Cassius’ story of betrayal and comeuppance. He betrays those he loves, mid-protest, at the office. Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with his friends and colleagues, Cassius just walks on by. All his co-workers want is a little respect and to establish a union. Initially, Cassius was on board with the protest, but precisely when it mattered most, he turned his back on everyone. It’s clear Cassius is more focused on himself than on the greater good, but at least he's focused. It’s not long before he makes it to the big leagues, and soon after, he learns what he’s actually contributing to society. Turns out inaction doesn’t mean lack of impact. ‘Sorry to Bother You’ is a hilariously surreal look at a truckload of taboo social issues, and it's far more fun than I was prepared to have.
Boots Riley creates an alternate reality that’s close enough to this one, that it hurts a little every time you let out a belly laugh. It’s terrifying if you stop to think about it for too long. Riley’s approach is also refreshingly straight out of left field. There’s no dependance on split screen here. Entire chunks of reality come crashing down into other bits of the real world, literally. It’s more of an experience than it is a movie and that doesn’t happen too often. It’s exciting.
Lakeith Stanfield is easy to connect with as Cassius Green. He’s hustling hard just to make it through the day and when he catches a break, he takes it, no questions asked. I'm not judging either. Most of us would do the same thing; the heroes are few and far between. Despite Cassius' slip ups, we end up rooting for him largely due to Stanfield’s portrayal. He makes Cassius into someone who’s conscientious in his movements and intent, but also sort of dopey and lovable at the same time. That’s a hard thing to pull off when the material makes so many aggressive statements about society. Stanfield makes the outlandish storyline believable because he makes Cassius instantly relatable. His portrayal is down to earth, disheveled, ambitious, and hopeful.
Tessa Thompson is captivating, powerful, and pretty damn funny as Detroit, Cassius’ artist girlfriend. Thompson's portrayal is outlandish like the plot but also approachable, real. She makes Detroit eccentric instead of crazy, powerful instead of bitchy and she does so deftly. Ultimately, Thomson is more restrained than zany in her approach; she knows how to makes an impact without flinching.
There’s nothing but 100% commitment from every name listed in the cast. At one point, Steve Yeun popped up and half my theater instinctively let out a little happiness squeal / excited sigh of relief that sounded a lot like, “Glenn!” I know it wasn’t just me. A handful of us lived that moment collectively. It was cute. It also made me a little sad for Yeun. “He’s going to be Glenn forever now. Poor guy,” I thought to myself. Fortunately, and as to be expected, I was wrong as hell. There is no Glenn here, only a modern-day revolutionary named Squeeze. Jermain Fowler may not have the biggest part as Salvador, Cassius’ best friend, but he makes an impact in every scene. Also, Armie Hammer was the pitch perfect choice to play the powerful rich guy in billowy clothing and statement necklaces. I found it impossible to keep it together whenever he took over a scene. Collectively, all of the portrayals had to be top notch in order to make the outlandish nature of the story palatable, believable. Whatever it was, it worked. They took it seriously, Boots Riley made it seriously funny, and it ended up being a hysterical, fantastical, and somewhat introspective journey on racism, capitalism, injustice, corruption, etc. etc. If I type it all out, you’ll just get overwhelmed and bummed out. Don’t. Give this one a shot instead. Stick with it and when it gets weird, revel in it.