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Review: Sorry To Bother You (2018)

Sorry To Bother You (2018)

Directed by: Boots Riley

Premise: A young African American (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a job at a telemarketing firm that is part of a larger international corporation. He quickly climbs the corporate ladder but risks losing his conscience. 

What Works: Sorry to Bother You is a satirical comedy that successfully mixes different genres, political awareness, and a wacky sense of the absurd into a truly unique film. The story is built around a familiar premise; a down-on-his-luck worker climbs the corporate ladder and achieves professional success only to find himself on the side of the people who exploited his friends and coworkers. This narrative structure has been seen before in movies like Wall Street and it is done well here. The corruption and disillusionment of the lead character is presented in a way that is credible and is packed with additional social and political implications. But the familiar story of Sorry to Bother You also works for the movie because it provides the audience with a guardrail as the movie becomes increasingly bizarre. This film mixes a lot of different elements. It’s a business story and a coming of age tale with a dash of science fiction. It’s also stylistically bold. Sorry to Bother You employs some strange visual techniques and it is often a wild and unpredictable show. Yet, everything in Sorry to Bother You fits together perfectly. That’s a credit to writer and director Boots Riley who manages so many different elements and funnels them into a cohesive whole. Sorry to Bother You also benefits from its performances. The film is led by Lakeith Stanfield who does a terrific job and he’s joined by Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, and Armie Hammer. Like everything else in this movie, the actors carefully gauge their performances. Given the subject matter and the tone of the movie they could go broad but most of the actors play it relatively straight and that makes the absurdity funny but also credible. Sorry to Bother You is unmistakably a political film that is in tune with this particular cultural moment. However, it presents its points with a sense of humor. It addresses a variety of issues like being black in a white power structure and the role of personal responsibility in a world dominated by corporate influence. However, it presents all that commentary with a sense of humor. The comedy makes the politics accessible without diluting the point or the potency of the message.

What Doesn’t: The weirdness of Sorry to Bother You is one of this movie’s greatest assets but that weirdness is also going to limit its appeal. Sorry to Bother You is less cryptic than Mother! and more accessible than Eraserhead but like those movies Sorry to Bother You is an art film, which is to say that the moviemakers prioritized creativity and personal vision ahead of commercial considerations. But in that respect there is an odd tension in the ending of Sorry to Both You. The movie compromises its artistic ambitions in the conclusion. This is a political work about the way individuals and art exist in a world that is shaped and controlled by corporate interests. The conclusion of Sorry to Bother You is a feel-good Hollywood ending. It is too optimistic and too simplistic for the broad and complex topics addressed in the rest of the picture.

Bottom Line: Sorry to Bother You is an impressive debut feature from filmmaker Boots Riley. Although its ending is compromised, the film is a bold mix of artistic and commercial choices that merits comparison to John Carpenter’s They Live and Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. Sorry to Bother You is a funny and smart picture that captures this cultural moment.  

Episode: #709 (July 29, 2018)