Sorry To Bother You is a bit tricky to review, as the movie shifts in both tone and levels of absurdity, and it is better if the second half of the film is not discussed at all. It’s not even close to what I’ve seen in the trailers. Not that the trailer is misleading; the first half of the film is exactly as advertised. In fact, I applaud the marketing team for not ruining the third act, which I will absolutely not spoil for you.
Because I’m nice like that.
In a very surreal, basically dystopian version of modern day Oakland, Cassius Green (Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield) is desperate to get a job. He ends up at a ridiculously rundown telemarketing firm, where the pay is shit and the bosses are more grimy than the underpaid employees. After an older employee (Danny Glover) teaches Clay how to use his “white voice” (provided by David Cross), Green quickly becomes a “power caller,” even as his coworkers, including his “fuck the establishment” girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), go on strike for higher wages. As Green rises through the ranks, his job and life only get more bizarre and surreal, as those around him are alienated by his high position at a not-so-ethical telemarketing company.
Sorry To Bother You comes from musician turned filmmaker Boots Riley, who wrote and directed the film. The end result is a social commentary mostly on par with Get Out. However, Sorry to Bother You doesn’t only address the alienation of being Black in America, it satires the great economic divide between the haves and the have-nots, as well as the insane direction everything in this country is headed, including reality television. In trying to call attention to so many social issues, Riley’s film doesn’t have enough time to address one topic fully, and the film can feel a little overloaded. Sorry to Bother You feels like it can do more with less.
In addition to the overall message of those on the top making a profit off the lower telemarketers, in more ways than one, Sorry to Bother You gleefully paints a world even more corrupt than our own (slightly), with the rich getting richer in a world where even upward mobility in your career or class comes at a cost. Armie Hammer plays the coked-up CEO of Worry Free, a company that offers you a one time-salary for life, in exchange for what is basically cult-like slave labor, with all the employees basically dressing like minions (from the Minions movie, not sure if this was intentional or not) and living on site in bunks that look more like jail cells.
One or two final clever moments I will mention to give you a taste of Sorry to Bother You‘s bizarre world is the heightened level of ridiculousness TV has taken in this reality, evolving past reality shows with the most popular show in America being “Beat the @$&* Out Of Me” on which someone is brutally beaten on national TV on a bright, game-show set. Another show seen is a version of MTV’s Cribs — from NTV — where a laborer at Worry Free shows off the cell he shares with a dozen other “employees.” Another highlight is a room of the white social elite, chanting for Green to rap even though he insists he cannot, eventually rising to the occasion with a “song” that takes no prisoners.
Sorry To Bother You is damn stylish and very inventive visually, from Thompson’s extreme ear-rings to showing Green’s telemarketing calls, featuring him being sucked into the room with whoever he is calling. The contrast between the entry telemarketing office and the one upstairs through the golden elevator is astounding, as is nearly all the production design and costumes. Riley certainly has a very clear vision for his film, until he doesn’t in the third act.
I said I wouldn’t spoil the third act? I won’t, other than to say the film sort of loses its way and unravels a bit, becoming so bizarre that it feels like a different film altogether, and doesn’t feel entirely earned. In saving this for the third act, the finale to the movie feels rushed, and a little messy with odd cuts that don’t make sense and a startlingly quick conclusion. There is a mid-credits scene right after the final title card, that feels like a reshoot to aid the ending, but it actually detracts from it.
Overall, Sorry To Bother You is incredibly inventive, clever, and visually beautiful, with some really strong performances from Stanfield, Thompson, Hammer, and ever some of the least featured actors in the film. Bold and stunning, the film delivers some excellent social commentary that will make you wince, but it doesn’t fully stick the landing.
Will you be checking out Sorry To Both You this weekend? Let us know in the comments below!