Once “Get Out” paved the way for major motion pictures to tell entertaining, thought-provoking stories about race relations, it was only a matter of time before others followed suit.
Hopefully, “Sorry to Bother You”, the directorial debut of rapper Boots Riley, will achieve the same level of success because, although imperfect, it’s got quite a lot to say and is definitely entertaining. The film follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a down on his luck African-American man who gets by on the love of his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). At a certain point, however, Cash needs to get a job, and decides to go work at a telemarketing firm.
Though he is initially unsuccessful, prodding from a coworker convinces him to go ahead and use his “white voice”. By using his white voice (dubbed over hilariously by David Cross), Cash goes to the upper echelons of his company, ignoring the wishes of Detroit and his revolution-hungry coworker (Steven Yuen).
From there, things are best left unexplained.
“Sorry to Bother You” comes straight out the gate with a style all to its own. Due in no small part to the production design and the cinematography by Doug Emmett, this is a very colorful movie that oozes style. Conversely, Lakeith Stanfield is an excellent lead, delivering on the promise shown in his roles “Get Out”, “Atlanta”, and, to a lesser extent, “Death Note”. Cash is a relatable sad sack, whose moral sacrifices to get ahead are as understandable as they are painful to watch.
There’s some great social commentary here about adhering to the norms of another race to get ahead or, more generally, not selling out to get ahead. Yuen is a warm presence as the metaphorical angel on Cash’s shoulder; a reminder of doing the right thing. As the devil on his shoulder is Armie Hammer as Steve Lift, the CEO of the primary client of the telemarketing firm.
The less said about Hammer’s character the better. After a hilariously debaucherous character introduction, Hammer hams it up to the max, and I mean that in a great way. His character dominates the film in a third act that goes completely off the rails, to mixed results.
Riley’s script, up to the point the character of Steve Lift enters, is witty, gut-busting fun all the way. One-liners abound, it’s really a riot. Then, a big reveal in made in the final stretch that, to be honest, I’m still quite unsure about.
On one hand, audiences will be talking about this for years. This is a truly wacky aspect of the film that seems to come out of left field, and that’s kind of the problem. It’s such a strange choice that it feels like it turns the film into a B-movie. Then again, I can’t stop thinking it.
Less memorable is Tessa Thompson’s Detroit. This character really seems not to have any sort of character beyond being artistic and cool, falling smack dab in the middle of the “manic pixie dream girl” cliche. Her plotline is directly tied to Cash’s in a way that she never quite feels like her own character.
However, despite Detroit and the bizarre plot decisions, “Sorry to Bother You” is a fine film.
Boots Riley did an outstanding job with his directorial debut, making something really funny and timely. The cast and crew clearly all care deeply about what they’re putting on screen, and it’s infectious.
“Sorry to Bother You” is completely and utterly unafraid to be itself, so you shouldn’t be fearful of checking it out.
“Sorry to Bother You”
Running Time: 105 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Score: 4/5 stars