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12th December 2018

Review: Sorry to Bother You

Alfie Clark reviews one of the most original films of the year
Review: Sorry to Bother You
Photo:Pax Ahimsa Gethen @wikimedia commons

A smart political satire with a bizarre and disturbing edge, Sorry to Bother You is certainly one of the year’s most memorable and original films.

Sorry to Bother You is the highly promising directorial debut of Boots Riley, and tells the story of Cassius ‘Cash’ Green, an African-American telemarketer who slowly rises through the ranks of his company to become a ‘power caller’ by using his ‘white voice’, which is the only way he can keep white-American callers on the line. This new found success comes into conflict with the revolutionary ambitions of his artist girlfriend, Detroit, and his close friends who form a union to demand raises for telemarketers. It’s a compelling plot that allows for intelligent political commentary along with hilarious, and absurdist comedic moments.

Each cast member excels in their role. Lakeith Stanfield in the lead role continues to prove himself as one of the most promising rising stars in Hollywood, with his awkward charm perfectly suiting the everyman nature of the protagonist he portrays. Tessa Thompson as Detroit is as charismatic as ever, and does a lot with a role that sadly I did feel was underwritten, coming across as yet another ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ in the same vein as Ramona Flowers of Scott Pilgrim vs the World and countless other examples. The white voices that the characters adopt in the film were chosen perfectly, with comedian David Cross filling Cash’s white voice, and Lily James as Detroit’s.

To me, it felt like the film had two distinct halves, the first half being a slightly absurd political comedy, and the second half delving into absolute insanity that left me speechless— and that’s a good thing! Although I liked the first half, I didn’t feel that the jokes landed quite as much as I was expecting them to considering the hype I’d seen for this film. In particular, I found myself cringing at an appearance by Danny Glover, in which his character claimed to be “too old for that sh*t” in an un-inventive reference to his role in the Lethal Weapon series.

However, I was very impressed with the second half, which fully embraces absurdism and involves scenarios that caught me off guard, which I won’t give away here as the trailers do well not to spoil some of these plot developments. Though not a horror film like Get Out, a clear inspiration for this picture, Riley has created a story that is often just as unsettling. A scene in which Arnie Hammer’s character, Steve Lift, the drug-addled CEO of powerful company, WorryFree, orders a confused Cassius to rap in front of him and all his white friends, led to much uncomfortable laughter in the audience.

Visually, this film is a delight. It is highly colourful, with a lot of purple and yellow,  creating an aesthetic that does not feel completely separate from reality, allowing us to draw parallels to our society. But, is just at the right level of strangeness that we can buy into this crazy world operating by its own rules.

Boots Riley has proved himself to be a talented director and I’m certain he will continue to make original and entertaining works such as this. Though I wish I had enjoyed the first half as much as the second, this is still one of the most notable films I have seen this year, and I’m excited to see what is next for Riley and its stars.


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