Sorry to Bother You is absolutely one of the must-see films of 2018. While not everyone who sees it will ultimately like it, there is zero doubt that it is a cinematic experience that is essential. Doubly so when seeing it with an audience. There were a few times during our screening when audience members reacted in a way that reminded me of the reactions to mother!. Like that film, Sorry to Bother You is a torrent of ideas expressed by a visionary filmmaker that might over-explain itself in order to make sure viewers don’t miss the point. And there’s no doubt in my mind that this film could have only come from Boots Riley. In spite of it being his first film, there’s no question that these are ideas and stories that draw from his own thoughts and experiences. There’s an authenticity in the film’s quirks that remind me of how you can spot a film by Aronofsky, Anderson, Gilliam, or Wright from just a few seconds.
So when we see Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield)–also making the main character’s name a pun is a bold move that should be applauded–interviewing for a job as a telemarketer, then discover he gets better success by using his “white voice,” then his morals being tested at every turn, it rings true.
Sorry to Bother You is unrelenting in its ambition, which is also its biggest liability. Riley seems to have so many ideas, and threads that he wants to weave together, that the film must move at astonishing speed to make them all come together. And while it is extremely well-done, the film occasionally feels a little unfocused, with things feeling like a setup to be paid off later rather than fitting the flow of Cassius’ story. And while there’s an easy counterargument to be made that all of the issues Riley is stuffing into the film are intersectional, the film is a lot to take in on a first viewing. It also robs the characters of much development, and most of the film feels like things happening to the characters, rather than the consequences of their actions.
It could also be that some of the specific choices Riley makes in the film are allusions to things I am not familiar with. This doesn’t take anything away from the film so much as there may be additional commentary happening in other layers of the film like costuming (Tessa Thompson’s earrings come to mind), specific lines, and other developments within the film that I might be lacking the context to see these additional layers.
The film is a broad social satire, setting its sights on corporate America, labor practices, the way black people are allowed to behave in white spaces, social media, fame, and others. While the labor issues are the most prominent in the film, each of these are baked into the worldbuilding of the alternate present that Riley presents in the film. The Oakland in Sorry to Bother You is a tweak on our own reality, removed enough to allow for all of the places the movie wants to go, but familiar enough to remain relevant. Like Get Out or Idiocracy, this feels like an extended Twilight Zone episode (which I intend as a huge compliment).
And while the ambition outpaces the film by the end, this is still a film that needs to be seen, if only so we can talk about all of the stuff I didn’t spoil here. Enjoy!
Sorry to Bother You opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.