I’ve been trying, and failing, to figure out how to describe Sorry To Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley in his feature film debut. When I was telling a colleague about it, I made the the sign and sound of my head exploding.
In a hyperbolic version of Oakland, CA, black telemarketer Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is working the phones. He and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist, are living in the garage of his uncle Sergio (Terry Crews), who is in serious arrears on the mortgage.
Thanks to advice from co-worker Langston (Danny Glover), Cash discovers the key to professional success and enters the secret world of “powercalling” that means big bucks. But where will he stand when his friends and co-workers such as Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), Squeeze (Steven Yeun), and Cassius’ girlfriend Detroit organize in protest of corporate oppression?
Sorry To Bother You also stars Armie Hammer and Omari Hardwick as guys behind that golden elevator, and Rosario Dawson, Patton Oswalt and David Cross, whom you only hear.
My friend Steve Bissette, who thought it was one of the best films of the year, described it as a “brilliant, ramshackle dystopian sf-comedy” that is “inventive, raucous, antic, and candidly bleak.” It was at times LOL funny. Yet it also felt like only a somewhat exaggerated state of the downside of American capitalism.
Critic Michael Phillips calls it “a provocative, serious, ridiculous, screwy concoction about whiteface, cultural code-switching, African-American identities and twisted new forms of wage slavery, beyond previously known ethical limits.” A couple other critics mentioned Mel Brooks, and I can relate to that sensibility here as well.
Ultimately, there is no way to explain this film further without massive spoilers. Sorry To Bother You is rated R for “pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use,” most of which made sense in the arc of story line. I liked it a great deal.
A bit of trivia: “The movie was filmed in Oakland, California during the summer of 2017 concurrently with Blindspotting (2018).”