Some well-meaning films, no matter how big or small in scale or scope, have the undeniable power to reveal truths however biting they may be. Noted Bay Area-based writer-director Boots Riley’s (from the political hip-hop group known as “The Coup”) dark satirical comedy Sorry to Bother You is just such one of those unassuming and frothy vehicles. Unapologetic in its brand of brash, absurd and observational humor Sorry to Bother You is refreshingly nightmarish and nutty in its twisted reflection of societal angst and rollicking indignity. Easily one of the most smart, inventive and off-kilter comedies of the year, artist and activist Riley shrewdly spins some creative wheels that invite promising comparisons to celebrated auteurs such as Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, Mike Judge and Terry Gilliam.
Brilliant in its commentary that taps into race relations, workplace woes, financial urgency, corporate corruption and the temptation of the confused psyche Sorry to Bother You is a challenging concoction of fueled anarchy and alienation set to the background of 9-to-5 office hour hell.
Weary-minded Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield, “Death Note”) is a struggling telemarketer at RegalView (the film’s title refers to the repetitive phrase he has to incorporate into his routine calls to customers) who is currently based in Oakland. Poor Cassius is under tremendous pressure to do well selling encyclopedia subscriptions within his closed-in cubicle. The stakes are really high for Cassius to succeed at his telemarketing duties if he wants to escape his current doldrums. Sadly, Cassius is stuck living in his Uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews, “The Expendables 2”) garage. Furthermore, Cassius needs this job to fully commit and provide financial security for his free-spirited artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson, “Thor: Ragnarok”) whom he hopes to marry.
Luckily, Cassius’ older co-worker Langston (Danny Glover, “Proud Mary”) gives some professional advice to his frustrated young seatmate. He instructs Cassius to use a suitable “white” voice to better his sales technique.
Lo and behold the tip was incredibly effective, as the new approach by Cassius (his white voice is done by comedian/actor David Cross, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”) skyrockets his sales has through the roof. Predictably, Cassius soon gets promoted from the drab downstairs of the call center to the cherished upstairs where ethics, practices and standards are tossed to the side of the posh surroundings.
Stanfield’s Cassius “Cash” Green is a winner as the conflicted, lanky-built opportunist struggling under the surface with his integrity as he dances with the devilish side of his workplace wealth. Thompson’s carefree Detroit — the actual genuine trophy worthy of Cassius’ gained fortune — is a breath of fresh air as the devoted woman that would rather tolerate her impoverished down-to-earth guy than the corporate cad Cassius has become. Steven Yeun’s (“Mayhem”) Squeeze is fine as the protesting work buddy whom the newly revered Cassius has to butt heads with when debating the less-than-virtuous methods employed at the duplicitous company. Finally, Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”) is on board as detestable druggie Steve Lift, the worry-free billionaire of rival company WorryFree that does not think twice in exploiting and molding the token black guy Cassius to join in the abundant debauchery.
It would be a great disservice to go into details concerning the cunning twists, turns and overall turbulence that invigorates the mayhem that Riley establishes with the film’s scathing overtones. Nevertheless, the bizarre visual experimentation, conceptual complexity and sound impishness in the performances and writing sets Sorry to Bother You as a macabre force of chaotic ridiculousness. It is a crafty piece of insanity that resonates in its stinging commentary that skillfully tackles the perception of race, corporate crookedness and the conflict of embracing ill-gotten financial rewards that come at a costly price of one’s moral compass.
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