Sorry to Bother You is the feature-length directorial debut from rapper Boots Riley of The Coup. Set in the not-so-distant future of Oakland, California, a down-on-his-luck native named Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) goes into telemarketing and rises through the ranks using his “white voice.” Little does Cassius know that he will go down a path that he is not ready to take. My anticipation for Sorry to Bother You has grown more and more ever since I first heard buzz about it coming out of Sundance. Even after finally seeing the film, I can say that it is pure insanity and I loved it.
On a technical level, Sorry to Bother You is impressive, especially as an indie film. Riley’s only other experience behind the camera is some music videos, but this film does not scream “first timer.” The cinematography and shot composition are both excellent because they are simple, but not lazy, so what appears on screen is clear on a surface level. When there are complex camera movements and editing techniques, they usually never draw to themselves and do not distract audiences from what they are watching. The crew shot sixty scenes in twenty-eight days with a presumably low budget and it has better production values than many $100-million-plus blockbusters released today, which alone is worth commending. The costumes and art direction also fit with Riley’s perceived vision for the film. Speaking at a post-screening Q&A, which I was lucky enough to attend, Riley seemed incredibly enthused about shooting in his hometown and making audiences feel as if they are seeing Oakland in all its glory. Additionally, the film features an amazing soundtrack from The Coup which I hope releases on iTunes soon so that I can listen to it again and again.
Sorry to Bother You also contains terrific performances from young actors that people are already looking out for. Many people already know Stanfield from his supporting roles in movies and TV shows such as Get Out and Atlanta. However, Stanfield plays a protagonist in Sorry to Bother You that is much more relatable as he contemplates the costs of accepting this lucrative job. During the Q&A, Riley mentioned that Stanfield can show through his eyes and he is right since the character of Cassius appears emotional, especially in the difficult situations that the film puts him. The female lead Tessa Thompson excels as Cassius’s artsy, rebellious girlfriend, Detroit, putting herself out there in ways that I didn’t expect. Armie Hammer is also great as this eccentric billionaire, who I am not going talk about too much in fear of spoilers. The other supporting cast members including Danny Glover, Terry Crews, and Steven Yeun also deliver no matter how big or small their roles are.
The screenplay is what makes the film so fascinating. For a feature-length debut, this film is insanely ambitious—emphasis on insane—tackling race, capitalism, identity, and other sociopolitical issues. Whereas a more mainstream political movie such as The First Purge handles its themes in an obvious and unintelligent manner, Sorry to Bother You has so much clever subtext layers within its crazy imagery that I want to see the film again so that I can find more hidden subtleties. This screenplay is so bizarre that I want to read it just to know what was left on the cutting room floor.
Sorry to Bother You is also hilarious and the sold out crowd that I saw it with obviously agrees as they laughed numerous times throughout. In fact, the quality of humor was so consistent that I had to keep changing my favorite joke. However, I do not seeing all moviegoers enjoying the film’s extremely irreverent humor. Conversely, Riley can still successfully implement more tragic moments in between the film’s biting satire. Above all, Sorry to Bother You has its own identity. Even though I can see potential influences, this film is still a Boots Riley film first and foremost. Hopefully, he will continue to make more creative movies such as this one.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Sorry to Bother You is not only movie but also an experience. The beautiful direction, memorable performances, and pure imagination leave me in awe of a film that many people will continue to dissect long after its theatrical release. For those who are wondering, it released in several theaters this weekend but will expand nationwide next weekend so please give it the recognition it oh so deserves.