Writer & Director: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Steven Yeun and Armie Hammer
Review: Michael Dalton, Prime Minister
In one of the boldest directorial debuts in years, Boots Riley takes aim at capitalism with hilarious and horrifying results.
It is this exploitation and dehumanization of labour that rapper Boots Riley exhilaratingly skewers in his directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You. In the film’s dystopian yet disturbingly real world, a company called WorryFree offers people food and accommodation for life. The only catch is that it’s in exchange for a lifetime employment contract. Despite the cramped, over-populated living quarters and the questionable quality of the food, the company presents a friendly face to the public and its slave-labour working conditions aren’t considered illegal. However, a rebellion called Left Eye is growing, making its mark on the numerous WorryFree billboards that dot the streets of Oakland, California.
It is amidst this backdrop that Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) gets a job as a telemarketer at a company called RegalView. Initially struggling to make a sale, he is advised by a co-worker, played by Danny Glover, to use his ‘white voice’. Adopting this new persona (voiced by David Cross), Cassius soon works his way up the ranks to the esteemed position of ‘Power Caller’. Moved upstairs, away from his friends and co-workers who are struggling to unionize, Cassius is now responsible for selling WorryFree labour to the highest bidder. Blinded by financial riches, a meeting with the company’s CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), shockingly exposes Cassius to just how far WorryFree is willing to go in order to have an efficient workforce.
Sorry to Bother You is a film that defies categorization. Speaking to us after the film’s UK premiere at the London Film Festival, Boots Riley brushed off the constraints associated with specific genres. This attitude is reflected in the film itself, which shifts gears in a way that is utterly unconcerned with your preparedness. It starts off as a comedy first and foremost. The film is laugh-out-loud funny in an immediately accessible way, with one scene in particular, which Boots Riley referred to afterwards as ‘The Compliment Argument’, absolutely bringing the house down. The film then takes its capitalist critique to the most surreal extremes, resulting in a third act that has more in common with horror and science fiction. A scene where Cassius asks to go to the bathroom results in one of the biggest left-turns you’ll ever see in a film.
In front of the camera, Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Get Out and Atlanta) is finally given the big, leading role that his superb supporting performances over the years have deserved. He has a charismatic presence on screen that makes him simultaneously relatable and aloof. Describing his process, Boots Riley explained that Lakeith didn’t learn his lines for any given scene until the day before filming. That way, his delivery could feel authentic rather than rehearsed.
Meanwhile, as the monstrous CEO Steve Lift, Armie Hammer gives one of the most wickedly entertaining performances of his career. Chosen because his lovable persona perfectly captured the friendly face modern capitalism presents itself with; it’s one of the best uses of his profile to date. Furthermore, Tessa Thompson provides a great foil to Lakeith Stanfield as his girlfriend Detroit, who becomes more involved with Left Eye as he excels at RegalView.
In his post-film remarks, Boots Riley said something with which I fervently agree. It is a view that forms the foundation of this very website. He said that every film, whether it is aware of it or not, is political. In the act of creation, a world-view is put forward, with people bringing their own baggage to whatever it is they’re making. Sorry to Bother You is an unashamedly political film. While some may find it too broad, and it certainly isn’t subtle, it is at its heart a scathing satire of modern capitalism. The leaps it takes in its third act may be too extreme for some; however the stories coming out of Amazon and across the growing gig economy show that in its madness, this film is an unfortunately perfect encapsulation of the times we live in. Don't be fooled by its title, Sorry to Bother You is a thrillingly unapologetic piece of polemic filmmaking.
Movie Parliament Rating: LANDSLIDE
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,