SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: FILM REVIEW
Watching Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is like riding a rollercoaster blindfolded and without a seatbelt. As Boots Riley’s debut film, Sorry to Bother You is quite impressive. Riley is a household name to some, but unknown to others, as he is involved in the realms of rapping, producing, screenwriting, directing, and activism. In fact, Riley released an album titled Sorry to Bother You with his hip hop group, The Coup, all the way back in 2012.
Riley’s film, Sorry to Bother You revolves around a broke telemarketer named Cassius Green, played by the wonderful Lakeith Stanfield. Through the course of the film, Cassius rises in the ranks at work after following the advice of his co-worker Langston (Danny Glover), who tells him that he should speak in a “white voice.” This white voice serves as an allegory to the narrative that black people can only succeed if they conform in some way, to being white. This allegory is one of the film’s strengths, as it points out that even when race doesn’t seem to be in the equation, it always is. As Casisus achieves MVP status, he realizes that he has actually been working for an indentured slave labor firm called WorryFree this whole time. Cash draws the attention of its CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who wants to genetically engineer the next generation of workers. Cash’s upward mobility also contrasts with the beliefs of his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), who is an activist-artist.
Riley does an excellent job of building up tension in this film in a way that makes the various twists and turns of this story unexpected. Throughout the film, we see Cash struggle with inner conflict, as his friends organize unions, he divorces himself and receives larger and larger commissions. The movie is also fascinating to watch, with vibrant colors and hard-to-take-in party scenes. Riley’s comical taste is not one that everyone will understand, but forms a cultish reputation for those who do.
I would say the social ideas presented in this film are not as clear as they should be; oftentimes there is more chaos than clarity. However, rather than presenting a single takeaway, Riley seems to throw a flurry of ideas regarding race, socioeconomic status, and capitalism in America. CEO Steve Lift scarily reminds us of how many tech CEOs seem to operate, without regard for the implications of their company on the future. In the midst of its chaos, Sorry to Bother You is still a fascinating must-see; a rollercoaster worth riding.