movie review · surrealism

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

sorry to bother you

Sorry to Bother You – No You’re Not!

I was finally able to borrow a copy of, “Sorry to Bother You” from my local branch of the library and watched it last night. Although I had a general idea of what it was about, I’d purposely kept myself ignorant of spoilers and wanted to go into it fresh. As far as genres go, this film does not fit neatly into any genre, but it could be classified as part surreal horror, part thriller, part comedy and all sociological treatise.

Sorry to Bother You” takes place in modern day Oakland, CA., where Cassius Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield) lives in the garage-turned-apartment of his Uncle Sergio (played by Terry Crews); he needs to find a job as he’s 4 months behind on the rent, and his uncle needs the money to keep his mortgage from getting axed. He applies for a job as a telemarketer and does very well after being given some good tips by his co-worker, Langston (played by Danny Glover). He’s soon rising in the ranks and starts hob-nobbing with the “winners” who get to go up the mysterious golden elevator as a top salesman. Cassius’ newfound success makes money troubles go away, but they cause conflicts with his free-spirited artist girlfriend, Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson), his friend, and his other co-workers who are still trapped back down in the trenches. Things take a sinister turn when he’s up with the upper-crusters. Without giving away spoilers, there is no way to say much more about the plot except that it goes off the chain in ways you can’t imagine.

Aside from the already mentioned characters/actors, there’s an admirable support cast who give it their all in, “Sorry to Bother You”. There is the manager in his office who hires Cassius, Mr. Anderson (played by Robert Longstreet), with the interview of Cassius having to be one of the most memorable job interviews ever seen in film. There is the floor manager, Johnny (played by Michael X Sommers) who keeps the telemarketers pumped up and keeps talking about “making it upstairs” where the real money is. There is Cassius’ friend, Salvador (played by Jermaine Fowler). There is his co-worker (and political activist), Squeeze (played by Steven Yeun). There’s the floor manager upstairs, Mr. ________ (played by Omari Hardwick). And last but not least, there is Steve Lift, White Devil Incarnate (played by Armie Hammer.)

As you can see, there is quite the ensemble assembled! Standout performances include Lakeith Stanfield, who had a challenging role of everybody wanting something different from him and he needing to stay calm in the eye of the storm. He’s pulled not only by the other characters but by societal expectations. Tessa Thompson is another standout in this film. When she’s in the scene, you can’t take your eyes off of her, and so much of how she expresses herself is through small movements in her face. She’s a an ordinary person but she’s also a rebel who speaks out against injustice through her art. Armie Hammer plays a frightening personification of a White Devil, a corporate monster who sold his soul a long time ago. Other characters with smaller roles are able to bring those characters to life admirably, including Michael X Sommers, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, and Steven Yeun.

Sorry to Bother You” is the extraordinary brainchild of writer and director, Boots Riley. Per Wikipedia, “Boots Riley, is an American rapper, producer, screenwriter, film director, and activist. He is the lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club. In another review out there, the reviewer felt that Boots has been writing the plot for, “Sorry to Bother You” through his song lyrics for many years.

What I like best about this movie is the social commentary throughout Cassius’ surreal horror story. It’s in a format that can reach the viewer and plant seeds that may germinate. It is of a style that reminds me of some of my favorite cult classics, including, “Repo Man”, “They Live”, “Running Man”, and “Videodrome.” The protagonist in each of these films is an “everyman” coming up against social forces and new evil of which there are no guidebooks on how to defeat it. It shows everyman at his best. I can 100% see it becoming a cult classic as well, even so far as participatory interactive theater nights similar to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” There is so much material to work with for something along those lines!

Another thing I loved about this movie was the sound editing and the soundtrack. Michael McMenomy and Ruy Garcia are listed at imdb.com as the Supervising Sound Editors. McMenomy’s sound credits include, “Curse of the Golden Flower” (2006), “Knowing” (2009), “The Square” (2008), “The Condemned” (2007), with a total of 128 listed credits in imdb. Not too shabby! Garcia’s sound credits include, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001), “First Reformed” (2017), “Roma” (2018), “The Get Down”, (2016-2017), with a total of 88 credits listed in imdb. Again, not too shabby! Music is by The Coup, Merrill Garbus, Boots Riley, and Tune-Yards. The sounds in this movie flawlessly mesh; I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as good as it was without them. What I didn’t care for in the movie…. hmmmm… let me think…. nothing! There is nothing about, “Sorry to Bother You” that I don’t like. It tells a tale and it tells it very well. One thing that could be fodder for some critics is that it’s not a big, slick Hollywoood production drowning in CGI, but personally I consider that to be a plus. It has an almost 80’s feel to it, even though it has been described as an “alternative present day” setting.

Lessons to be learned from the movie would be to look beyond the impulsiveness of the immediate gratification that money (profits, for investors) brings and see what the long-term effects of those decisions might be (e.g. destruction of the middle class, destruction of the environment, global warming, etc.). Another is a reminder that we humans are all in this thing together, and the struggle is not a racial one as much as it is a class one. The messages Boots wants others to learn may vary.

Audiences who like movies with unpredictable events that will blow their minds will like, “Sorry to Bother You”. Fans of quirky surreal horror will like it. Young people, particularly people of color, struggling in the world of work could very much relate to it. The MPAA rating is R. My final word on this film is: like new!

Score on a scale of 0-5 = 4.75

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