Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) leads satirical comedy Sorry to Bother You, in which his professional success as a telemarketer sees him ascend to frightening realms of corporate America. Also stars Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok), Steven Yeun (TV’s The Walking Dead), and Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name).
In his five-star review, Steve Newall calls it “a fucking trip of a film”.
An astonishing, surreal, shit-stirring satire, Sorry to Bother You is a fucking trip of a film. Its hectic, heady mix of disparate elements fuses together into a whole that defies description as it smartly, often cynically, critiques racism, classism, late-stage capitalism, assimilation, conformity, art and commerce, romance, consumerism, activism—you name it (ok, white America’s obsession with black men being hung like horses also makes the list).
Some may see Boots Riley’s darkly comic directorial debut as a muddle, but Sorry to Bother You functions as a scream of release, letting loose a pent-up torrent of frustrations about contemporary existence. It’s messy, it’s all over the place, and it needs to be in order to come close to capturing the chaos its characters—and audience—are grappling with, never sitting still long enough for the viewer to have a firm grip, never letting them be comfortable.
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So, so, much more than the “black man succeeds as telemarketer by putting on a white voice” comedy that it has sometimes been pitched as, the film’s an audacious journey from below the breadline to the heights and through the bowels of corporate America. Starting the film unemployed, Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield, in an overdue lead role that builds on strong performances in Get Out and TV’s Atlanta) finds himself a job as a telemarketer and, yes, he does find success by using his “white voice”, and yes, that’s funny, but before long he’s being sucked into some kind of Pynchonian nightmare—and that’s to say, aren’t we all?
Tessa Thompson offers up a typically commanding performance as Cash’s girlfriend, saved from manic pixie dream girl status through her formidable independence; Cash’s telemarketing sweatshop supervisors are hilarious; and Armie Hammer steals scenes as an intensely-friendly, ultra-evil face of capitalist oppression—but this film really belongs to Riley’s alchemy of elements. One minute Sorry to Bother You will prompt belly laughs, the next it’ll prove unnerving as it casts 21st-century life in chillingly paranoid, post-modern terms. Along the way, it serves up a singular vision, one that words like “weird” or “eccentric” simply can’t do justice to.