Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is a refreshing, innovative satire that is thought-provoking and forces you to question your own complicity in the oppressive structures in society today. As well as directing, Riley also wrote the script, and his activist background is apparent through the film’s presence and power. The piece tackles a multitude of issues, which is commendable considering this is Riley’s first time directing. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a man struggling with money problems, lands a job as a telemarketer and learns that in order to progress he must use his ‘white voice’. What quickly unravels is a whirlwind of superficiality and greed, showing the effects money can have on a person.
The film is a satire of capitalist society and people’s mentality to take whatever opportunities they can in order to profit. It also critiques those that follow along blindly while provoking something within the viewer, a call to action. The events in the film are deeply disturbing, more so due to their resemblance to our world. While things are hyperbolic and exaggerated to absurd extremes, the corruption and greed shown in the film is real. This makes the content all the more distressing, its believability. People like Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) do exist, and they benefit from forced labour and the horrible exploitation of those they consider disposable. Hammer was able to capture the unlikable, despicable nature of Lift and his vile character well.
Sorry to Bother You depicts a twisted and dark world, where the most popular show in the States is called ‘I got the shit kicked out of me’ and is literally just that. These bleak and sadistic elements in the film highlight mob mentality and the ridiculous extremes people will go to for money and fame. There are also broader existential questions in the film, such as the role of the individual and a person’s purpose. With all these dense, topical issues being addressed in the film, the acting could be side-lined, but that is far from the case. The casting, by Eyde Belasco, and acting throughout were fantastic. I found Tessa Thompson’s character Detroit to have an empowering attitude and an uplifting mindset. Her radical nature and self-expression were refreshing and acted as a stable balance to the conflicted Cassius. Lakeith Stanfield was able to portray Cassius’ character growth in a way that felt genuine. When Cassius, and other characters, used their ‘white voice’ the dubbed over voice was not in sync with the actors’ mouths, and as such there was a jarring quality to the film, but this indicated how unnatural the voice is and how people have to pretend to be something they’re not to succeed.
The film has surreal aspects through the body horror imagery Riley utilises. While these elements sometimes took me out the film, they are meant to be shocking and the deeper issues they comment on make it effective. The film’s structure gives resolution, but also raises questions as it has so many layers. Visually the film burst with colour and the use of a variety of settings made the film feel well paced. Sounds and music is integral to Sorry to Bother You. Riley, and the lead Stanfield, both have musical backgrounds and the film brings an energetic atmosphere with the song choices, some of which are originals for the film. Sorry to Bother You feels iconic in its outrageously holding a mirror up to our society and showing just how revolting it really is. Yet, there is a hopefulness and comedic relief provided, which makes the film feel more optimistic, despite its dense nature.