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Fearlessly ambitious, scathingly funny, and thoroughly original, Sorry to Bother You loudly heralds the arrival of a fresh filmmaking talent in writer-director Boots Riley.
Fearlessly ambitious, scathingly funny, and thoroughly original, Sorry to Bother You loudly heralds the arrival of a fresh filmmaking talent in writer-director Boots Riley.
All Critics (254)
| Top Critics (46)
| Fresh (235)
| Rotten (19)
Sorry To Bother You [is] doubly exciting: it's conscious of what it achieves in its absurdity, just as much as it's conscious of the dangers of late-stage capitalism.
This bold new film not only shatters comedy's cold streak, but also serves as a powerful reminder of the vitality of the genre as both social commentary and shared experience.
[The] critique, ultimately, is a moral reversal, one that has less to do with making the white man a stereotype than with giving the black one a sense of self.
It should throw the viewer for a loop, because it's a reflection of the insane times we live in.
Sorry to Bother You ponders the danger of trying to assimilate into the white world, but at heart it's a multiracial, proletarian call to arms.
Telemarketers as targets from which satire flows eternal were spigotted about the same time as mall cops, and that's not all this jammed-scattergun approach to comedy has in common with the terminally dopey Paul Blart.
a deliriously entertaining and viciously bizarre satire of the logical ends of capitalism, corporate culture, race relations, and ethics-free technological and biological advancement
This movie, the directorial debut of rapper and activist Boots Riley, explores the racial, class and financial gulfs of human society. It does so in a way that is bizarrely funny and awkwardly confronting.
Riley builds on the history of satirical cinema to tell a sharply contemporary fable that critiques the related inequities of race, class and unionised labour.
It's almost too much, like sitting in a Marxist theory class after a night of hallucinogens, but Riley's wide-awake writing slots everything together around a beautifully twitchy performance from Stanfield.
Boots Riley...delivers a social comedy that is satirical, surreal and, thankfully, at times very funny indeed.
Visually and tonally, Sorry To Bother You is a one-off, and hopefully heralds the arrival of an unorthodox new talent. The relentless fizz of absurdism might be too much for some palates, however.
Although the sharp sense of humor is only one step away from being laugh-out-loud hilarious, this is a smart absurdist satire on conformism and modern alienation that couldn't feel more realistic even as it confidently moves towards surrealism in ways that are quite unexpected.
Two African-American filmmakers, one making his debut and another in his fourth decade of popular storytelling, have produced two of the most uncompromising, entertaining, provocative, and exacting and relevant movies of this year. Boots Riley's absurdly comic indie Sorry to Bother You was a festival smash, and Spike Lee's BlackkKlansman is being positioned as a summer breakout. Audiences have often looked to the movies as an escape from the woes of our world, and when the news is non-stop catastrophic woe, that's even more apparent. However, both of these movies, while enormously entertaining and charged with fresh relevancy, are a reminder of the very social ills many may actively try to avoid. Both films, and their respective filmmakers, make cases why ignorance is a privilege we cannot afford. Also, did I mention that the movies are outstanding, daring, and hilarious?
Sorry to Bother You is also sharply cutting and topical about being black in America. In present-day Oakland, Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is struggling to make ends meet, move out of his uncle's garage, and do right by his girlfriend and performance artist, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). He gets a job at a telemarketer and discovers a new talent when he turns on his "white voice" (voiced by David Cross) and becomes a power caller, crushing his competition. He moves his way up the chain, losing touch with his base of working-class friends looking to strike to unionize. Once at the top, Cash draws the attention of the CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who has big plans for a man with Cash's gifts and seeming flexibility when it comes to corporate moral relativism.
Sorry to Bother You is a wild, hilarious movie bursting with things to say with its shotgun approach to satire, or as my pal Ben Bailey termed, a blunderbuss approach, messy and all over the place and, sometimes, maybe missing its intended mark. I thought the movie was simply going to be about the modern-day struggles of being black and poor in America, and the movie covers those aspects with aplomb. It's also sized up ample room to satirize consumer culture, labor exploitation and worker rights, male and female relationships, art and media, cultural appropriation, and even memes. Because of all the topics, the movie could run the danger of feeling unfocused, but thanks to the remarkably assured vision and handling of writer/director Boots Riley, it all feels connected by its unique voice operating at a risky but exhilarating level.
There are a lot of bizarre dips into the absurd that had me howling and on the edge of my seat wondering where we would go next. The most popular TV show is just watching a person get the stuffing beaten out of them, and it adopts a pretty simplistic name to go along with this transparency. A very Google or Amazon-esque company is offering "lifetime jobs" for employees to live in their factories and have all their cares taken for by a corporate slaver, I mean kindly overlord. There's an art show that consists of hurling cell phones at a woman's body. There's a corporate video with a female caveman narrator where she is, 1) stop-motion animated, and, 2) topless the entire time, complete with animated swinging breasts. There's an ongoing thread that seems to trace the life cycle of a meme. A woman throws a Coke can at Cash in protest. She gets plucked form obscurity, gains a talk show, gets an endorsement from Coke and her own video complete with dramatic re-enactment and chirpy jingle, and Cash getting hit becomes its own Halloween costume for white people. There are throwaway lines in this movie that any other major comedy would die for. This is a movie that is impossible to fall asleep to because every moment could be different and you won't want to miss one of them.
There are moments that strike beyond the immediacy of the onscreen absurdity. One of those moments was when Cash was invited to join the big corporate after party. He's out of his element, surrounded by rich, relatively young privileged white people. They assume, being black, that Cash will instinctively know how to rap, and they insist that he perform a free-style rap for the assorted group. This ignorant assumption is just the start for Riley, because Cash gets up there and struggles to perform, barely able to scrap together the most elementary of rhyme, and the illusion has become dashed with the crowd. He notices they're losing their interest with him, so in a desperate ploy, he just shouts two words over and over into the microphone with enthusiasm: the N-word and a profanity. He does this for like a minute, and the crowd of privileged white people shouts it back at him, seemingly lying in wait for some tacit permission by "popular music" for them to likewise use the N-word. It was an indictment that went beyond that scene. Another is ultimately what happens to the big bad corporation by the film's end. It literally made me guffaw because it felt completely in place with the tone of the movie.
All of this zany and funny stuff would feel passing if there weren't at least some characters worth our time. Cash is an engaging young man trying to get his life on track. He discovers he has a gift when it comes to coding, to blending into a white-majority community in a comfortable and acceptable manner. It's a survival technique many African-Americans have had to perfect on a daily basis, and soon to be featured in the upcoming adaptation of the best-selling YA novel, The Hate U Give. Even amidst its more bizarre moments and asides, the movie is about a black man trying to get by with limited opportunities in a society that too often devalues him.
Stanfield (Get Out) has been a strong acting presence for some time, first in the remarkably powerful Short Term 12 and most recently on Donald Glover's Atlanta. He grabs your attention and Stanfield has a gift for comedy, particularly a nervous energy that draws you closer rather than pushing you away. His character goes on the rise-and-fall path, so we still need to be pulling for him to turn away from his newfound egotism, and Stanfield keeps us rooted. Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok) is Cash's conscience and her wardrobe and accessories are amazing, from her declarative "The Future is Female Ejaculation" T-shirt to her large earring messages. Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) is confidently smooth and sleazy as a coked-out, venal CEO that is so blasé about his wrongdoing that it doesn't even register for him as wrong. I appreciated that even with all the wackiness of this cracked-mirror version of our universe, Riley puts in the time and effort to make the characters count rather than be expendable to the satirical aims.
Now, there is a significant turn in the third act that veers the movie into territory that will test how far audiences are willing to go along with Riley's raucous ride. I won't spoil what happens but for several of my friends it was simply a bridge too far. For a select few, they even said this turn ruined the movie for them. It worked for me because it felt like an escalation in the dastardly labor practices of the corporation and was finally a visceral reminder of their cruelty. Beforehand, Cash has been making moral compromises to keep his ascending career, excusing the after effects of his success even when it's selling weapons to foreign countries. That stuff is over the phone, part of his coded performance, and easier to keep out of mind. This escalation finally is too much to pretend to ignore. It's too much to excuse his own culpability working for the enemy. It's what pushes Cash back to his circle of friends he had left behind for the corporate ladder, it's the thing that politically activates him, and it's what pushes him to make a difference. I can understand, given the somewhat goofy nature of the plot turn, that several viewers will feel like Riley gave up his artistic high ground to self-indulgence. However, I would counter that the line between self-indulgence and an assured vision can be tenuous. The movie is so alive, so vibrant, and so weird, so having another weird detour felt agreeable.
BlackkKlansman and Sorry to Bother You are each unique and fun but with larger messages to say about the black experience and other fissures within our volatile society. You'll be thoroughly entertained by either film and you'll walk away with something to ponder and discuss with friends and family and maybe that one racist uncle at Thanksgiving, the one who uses the term "false flag operation" a little too liberally. BlackkKlansman tells a fascinating, comic, and thrilling story about racism of the past, drawing parallels to the trials of today, in particular under the era of Trump. Sorry to Bother You has many targets, many points, and much to say, exploding with thoughts and cracked comedy. Riley is holding up a mirror to the shortcomings and inanities of our own society and the ease we can all feel to turn a blind eye to the difficult realities of systemic racism, capitalism, and worker rights. Lee is a known firebrand and his polemic doesn't shy from its political relevancy, but it tells a highly engaging story first and foremost, with top acting performances from its cast. In a summer of studios afraid to take chances, here are two excellent movies that take crazy chances and provide bountiful rewards.
Sorry to Bother You: A-
There are many ways of calling a film bizarre. When it comes to independent ventures, it really can go back and forth from being accessible to a mainstream audience. With the release of this year's Sorry to Bother You, the film has a premise that may attract fans of comedy/drama, but, when this movie truly kicks into gear, it's really a toss-up whether or not it will sit right with you. For fans of the medium of film no matter how strange, Sorry to Bother You may just end up being one of the best movies of 2018 to date, as it is to myself. For all its quirks and strange twists and turns, here's why I can't recommend Sorry to Bother You enough if you're ready to explore a film that explores the weird side of cinema.
Following Cassius Green (sort of set in an alternate reality to our own), he receives a job at a telemarketing company, where he discovers a new voice and is able to make a huge profit for himself. Propelling himself into greed and forcing his life to spiral into a metaphor that reflects the social issues of our daily lives, Sorry to Bother You represents the horrible side of our society while also managing to be an entertaining and eye-opening piece of filmmaking. The core premise is very easy to follow, but once the twist occurs, sending this film on a course that you'll either buy into or find too bizarre to comprehend, it's true message begins to reveal itself.
This movie has one of the most surprising turns that I've been able to witness in quite some time. Not only is it visually shocking, but it also manages to be a slightly comedic aspect to the movie while also being a social commentary for the mature audiences, which is really just writer/director Boots Riley displaying his creative mind to the world. Being his directorial debut in the feature film category, I can't wait to see where his career goes next. I truly believe that he has the potential to create stories that will be loved by audiences on a yearly basis. Riley definitely has a knack for telling a great story, even in the subtlest of ways.
Although I pretty much loved this film from start to finish, upon reflection I must say that the first act of this film goes suffer from pacing issues. I feel as though Sorry to Bother You is trying to set up a few elements at the beginning that may not land with some viewers, but that's only because it needs to be able to pay off in the final act, so it's acceptable. Still, I found myself enjoying the movie at first, but it took a while to really hook me. I feel that will happen with other viewers as well. That being said, when the film concludes, I do believe that viewers will look back on the movie as a whole and appreciate the first act more. For that reason, I can't say it's a true glaring error, but it is definitely worth mentioning.
In the end, Sorry to Bother You mixes a few genres together to make one wacky ride of a film. There are visuals that will stun you, an over-arching story that will open your eyes to our ever-evolving society, and a quiet editing style that seamlessly takes you through the film with ease. This movie is absolutely not for everyone, especially due to the fact that the third act is very "out there," but, if you're prone to liking movies solely based on a good execution, regardless of how strange it becomes, then I can't recommend this movie enough. Sorry to Bother You is one of my favourites of 2018.
THAT KITCHEN SINKING FEELING - My Review of SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (3 Stars)
In 1970, Melvin Van Peebles directed a daring comedy called WATERMELON MAN in which a white protagonist wakes up black one day and experiences the world through fresh eyes. Fast forward to 2018 and I couldn't help but think about that film as I watched the auspicious yet flawed debut of Boots Riley's much more surreal SORRY TO BOTHER YOU.
Lakeith Stanfield (GET OUT) plays Cassius Green, a jobless man in Oakland who lives in his relative's garage with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE). With mounting debt, he hilariously nabs a job at a telemarketing company, but money doesn't pour in when the people he calls hear a black voice. These sequences have a real charge as Cassius literally crashes in on the people he calls. One fortuitous day, his cubicle mate, Langston (Danny Glover) offers him the tip to boost his sales by speaking in a white voice. It would be funny if it were not true, and yet it's impossible not to laugh when David Cross' voice comes out of Cassius' mouth. Faster than you can say HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, Cassius ascends the corporate ladder, well on his way to achieving a mysterious elite status.
I loved the first act of this film and recognized that going off the rails felt like a fait accompli, but at a certain point, I grew tired of its surreal qualities. While a highly original satire, things get overstuffed and manic, much like latter day John Waters films such as A DIRTY SHAME. Sometimes you just want the hot water instead of the entire kitchen sink.
Still, this is a film full of surprises, none of them spoiled here in any detail. Armie Hammer does a knockout job as a Corporate Leader/Monster, all bright smiles and evil intentions. Plus, it's fun seeing him snorting a huge line of coke (or something else perhaps) the likes of which haven't been seen since SCARFACE. Stanfield also does a tremendous job of keeping his character grounded, vulnerable and sweet despite the increasingly crazy tone of the story. Same goes for Thompson, who just can't help being one of my favorite new stars.
Throughout, I kept thinking what this film would have been like had Riley chosen to keep things grounded in reality. It may not have been as visually fun as this, thanks to cinematographer Doug Emmett's vibrant work here. He typically has kept his work simple and earthy (ALEX OF VENICE and THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN), so it's nice to see a talented person stretch themselves so well. But, the potency of the satire wore thin as things escalated to such frenetic levels. It reminded me a little of SOYLENT GREEN, although that film stayed as real as it could for as long as possible. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU commits to its nuttiness, for better or for worse. I'd say calm down Boots Riley, as I'd love to experience something a little more calm from this man full of anti-capitalist ideas, rage, hope, and yes, heart.
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