SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

Satire is a tough thing to manage, especially when you’re looking through it all with an absurdly comedic lens. When you’re satirizing serious issues, such as race relations in the United States, your tone can either go full on ridiculous with it, or full on serious with it. Satire is normally comedic, poking fun at their targets in very absurd and over the top ways. Either way works, but the most important element is that you have to a have a clear, singular point you’re trying to make. 

Sorry to Bother You takes place in near-future Oakland, where unemployment is high, and seemingly benevolent companies are offering lifetime employment and boarding for anybody who’s willing to work for them. This causes much tension between these companies and the regular citizens, claiming it’s basically slavery. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is an unemployed man living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Way behind on his rent, Cash’s uncle gives him an ultimatum of getting a job or getting kicked out. Cash lands a job at Regalview, a telemarketing company, where he quickly rises through the ranks to become a “power caller”. As his newfound success forges promising new relationships with the elite, his friends in the lower class are left feeling betrayed.

I love social satire, especially when it’s done with comic absurdity. While watching this, I was reminded of Get Out. While that was a horror film, Jordan Peele had one singular message he was trying to get across. Riley seems to be trying to say multiple things, and since there’s so much going on, some work and some fall flat. It doesn’t help that his social satire is about as subtle as a nuclear bomb. These themes are all explored with a striking visual style, and while the absurdity and zaniness was amusing, it could have worked a lot better if I wasn’t groaning at the overt nature in which it was delivered. However, there’s so much creativity and passion put into the world Riley created, it’s hard not be entertained at whatever off the wall thing you may see next.  

Whenever Cassius makes a call to a potential customer, he’s dropped right into their home, seeing everything they’re doing, from going to the bathroom, to just sitting at the table.  Just like the phone calls, Riley has Cassius go through all sorts of insane situations, every one having a reflection on his character and of society as a whole. I worked at a call center for a few years, and the way they represent the depressing nature of it compared to the higher up’s chipper attitudes is flawless. That’s just a small aspect of the story, as there are numerous different elements that are explored. There’s just too much to explore in a 100-minute running time, though, so a lot of the elements come off as underdeveloped and pointless. It felt like Riley had a lot of things to say about our society, but didn’t have a narrative to form around it. Was this a movie about class warfare? Was it about what a black man in America is forced to do in order to be successful? Is it about corrupt capitalism and how it can negatively affect our life? I was never really sure.

As wild as this world was Riley created, the story that he set out to tell isn’t anything too special. What we have here is a tale of a man who finds success, causing him to alienate everybody around him, then he finds out what’s really important. That’s really about it, although Lakeith Stanfield does a fantastic job at realistically conveying all of the various emotions his character would go through. The rest of the characters are pretty uninteresting, but the actors do a fine job, especially Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer. Since the story is pretty thin and the satire is generally unfocused, it was hard to be truly invested, especially when the narrative takes such an extreme turn at one point. This really affects the pacing, especially in the third act which drags on for far too long and has more false endings than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I was honestly kind of just waiting for it to be over. However, while I wasn’t completely invested, I can’t say I was every completely bored. There’s simply too much weird stuff in here to not pique some of my interest, as unfocused as it all is. 

There are a lot of artistic things that I find very intriguing and entertaining. That doesn’t mean they always work for me, though. There needs to be some sort of consistency in what the film is trying to say and achieve. Writer/director Boots Riley clearly has a lot to say about black and white race relations in the United States, class warfare, worker’s rights, expressing yourself, selling out, corporatism, and whole host of other ideas. It just seems like he wasn’t able to form it into a cohesive whole. While Sorry to Bother You didn’t really give me a complete package, it’s without a doubt, the most memorable film I’ve seen in a long while. While I did enjoy something like Ant-Man and the Wasp more than this, I can guarantee that I’ll remember this much more than that a few years down the line.

6/10

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