Welcome to mid December, otherwise known as the ‘biding time before I potentially lose my mind over Mary Poppins Returns‘ period of my life. However, with recent releases like Disobedience, Suspiria, even going as far back as Widows, it is nice to see that there are still options during the holiday season for those who aren’t just looking for fun family fare. Marking multi-faceted artist Boots Riley’s directorial debut, Sorry To Bother You looked set to provide yet another diverse experience in the run up to Christmas.
Set in Oakland, California, the film tells the story of Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a new telemarketing worker who finds that he becomes much more successful in his job after discovering the use of his inner ‘white voice’. As he rises through the ranks, Cassius’ talents elevate him to the world of ‘power calling’ that reveals a dark, sinister plan by a company called WorryFree, who offer a lifetime work contract in exchange for free lodging and food.
If you are a fan of dark, absurdist humour, biting satire and touches of science fiction and even magical realism, then Sorry To Bother You is going to be a real treat. There is so much to unpack in this film that fear I’m not going to be able to do it justice, but suffice to say it really is the kind of picture that you have to see for yourself! The audience are having so much twisted, stylised fun whilst watching that it is easy to be lulled in to a false sense of absurdist security, but the narrative intersperses the eccentric humour with the occasional gut punch back to the metaphors of reality in the same ways that recent films like Get Out and BlacKkKlansman have done so well.
The themes of capitalism, white privilege, race relations, slavery and false consciousness are all heavily prevalent throughout, and it is testament to the fine execution of the picture that a film focusing on those weighty topics can still fill so light and breezy and palatable from start to finish. There is no doubting that the movie possesses its own unique rhythm which takes a second to acclimatise to, but once you settle in for the unique ride, it produces a really rewarding experience.
It feels like there have been a few films this year that have not been able to match their ambitious narratives with truly great execution, but the great thing about Sorry To Bother You is that it feels controlled, concise and conceptually sound all the way through. Sure, the magical realism and absurdist elements perhaps give a little more leeway, especially when the plot starts to venture in to insane territory, but that only means that Boots Riley should be commended for his spot on perception of what kind of story framing his message would need. It’s a wild ride, but one that you won’t regret taking!
With stand out performances in films like Short Term 12, Selma, Dope, Straight Outta Compton and Get Out, Lakeith Stanfield really is putting together a stellar CV. As Cassius Green, he oozes a strange sort of awkward magnetism that draws the viewer in. There is a sort of intensity to his performance that isn’t brooding or over the top, but rather empathetic and intriguing. His comic timing is great, as is his ability to play it straight to help balance out the more wild, almost other worldly sections of the narrative. Stanfield is fast becoming an actor who I’m willing to watch in anything, a rare club considering how picky I can sometimes be!
Tessa Thompson gives a stand out performance as Cassius’ on and off girlfriend Detroit (her parents wanted to give her an American name, you see). She is a radical, a feminist, a performance artist and an activist who rails against the corporation Cassius finds himself working for, and although I’m not entirely sure that she passes the Bechdel test, she certainly adds some interesting feminine energy to proceedings.
The film is peppered with really high quality supporting performances by the likes of Jermaine Fowler, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and in particular Armie Hammer as the hedonistic infuriating boss of the WorryFree corporation. Even many of the off screen (but important) contributions are given by high profile names like Lily James, Patton Oswalt, Forest Whitaker and Rosario Dawson, an incredibly cool feature for a relatively small scale picture.
Overall, it’s safe to say that Sorry To Bother You is unlike anything else you will have seen this year. A searing satire of some super heavy issues that somehow feels light, energetic and really fun at the same time. It might be a little too quirky and offbeat for some, but if you are willing to fall in line with its style and rhythm, it’s a real thought provoking gem.