By Chris Campo
I love cartoons. It’s the exaggerated human experience as shown through elaborate set ups and goofy, unbelievable manors. Typically when you think of a cartoon, you think of a drawing or animation; be it a television show or a newspaper satire. The new film Sorry to Bother You takes what makes cartoons great and redefines it in live action. I will cut right to the chase. Seek this film out. This film feels like a B-movie follow up in a double feature that begins with last year’s Get Out, only much weirder, less tightly knit, and 100 times more fun for those reasons exactly. Right from the get go, this film knocked me on my ass. I said I love cartoons, and my word, I fucking loved this movie.
Move over Avengers Infinity War, this is the king of films you do not want spoiled for you. I will only really tell you about the briefest of story details, for your viewing pleasure, of course. The film opens with Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) landing a job at his local telemarketer company in an alternate version of present day Oakland, California. Cash, as he goes by, is a bit down on his luck when we first meet him. His rent is not only overdue, but his landlord (who is also his uncle) is going broke, his car is a bucket, his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is a struggling artist, and above all else, he is constantly worrying he is going to have no lasting impact on this world when the sun inevitably decides to explode and kill us all.
What could fix all of his problems is a well paying job, however. His first few calls don't go exactly as plan, with no consumers buying the products he is selling over the phone. That is until another black co-worker (Danny Glover) informs him of his White Voice (voiced by David Cross) deep down inside him. With customers more comfortable, they begin to buy more, and this grabs the attention of elite telemarketers The Power Callers. When Cash joins the powerful Power Callers, the real sales start happening, and Cash starts making some serious, if not questionable cash. The questionable ethics of The Power Callers lead Cash to question his own loyalty to his friends, and if the impact he will leave on Earth is a positive one.
This is the wildest, most subversive, head scratching and entertaining film of the year, if not the decade. Above all else, this film is bizarre, but in the best of ways. Everyday human interaction or occurrences are treated with a unique satirical voice. This is not just a workplace satire, or one of America's big businesses and their shady ways, it is a satire of human beings, and how they react to the everyday life on earth, and the more questionable or extreme. The film is not set in reality. Most of the film’s WTF moments wouldn't happen in the real world and if they did, a simple call to authorities would end the antics in a heartbeat. This is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Not being able to see literally any story beat coming is what makes this film so special, you just have to buy into the world created.
I see why people are looking at this film to be the next Get Out, but it is not and those people probably have not seen this film. Where Get Out had laser-precise focus on the topics it set out to tackle, Sorry to Bother You takes a spay and pray approach, having something new to say or a new idea seemingly every other scene. The film is a bit of a mess in this regard and it works, if you are willing to dive into the alternate America we are presented with here.
Rapper and first time writer/director Boots Riley is flying a spaceship at light speed through a meteor belt, and dodging catastrophe at every turn with confidence and style for days. Even the more ambitious reveals or ideas, while bat-shit crazy, somehow, miraculously work. The only fault Riley makes in his screenplay is a needless love triangle, which quite literally goes nowhere with no interesting scenes around it. And the last ten minutes or so seem to wrap up way too quickly for my liking. It makes up for that with a final shot so shocking, gasps came over my surprisingly packed theatre.
Seeing this film in a cinema packed with an audience just as confused as Boots Riley wants you to be may play a part in why I had such a damn good time watching this film, but it's the incredible cast that held my hand through this walk down Acid-Trip Lane. Lakeith Stanfield, most known for his work on Donald Glover's Atlanta, is incredible here. He carries the movie with seemingly no hesitation. He is the reason we buy into this world. It's not just a great performance, it is a prime example of a talent knowing exactly how to handle material that may be too ridiculous for anyone else to sell.
Tessa Thompson gives a surprisingly bold performance, showing the incredible range she has. She often steals scenes from Stanfeild; her performance is incredible to watch and their chemistry is infectious. The whole supporting cast are fun and inviting and captivating in their own right, but I have to give a shout out to Armie Hammer, who's performance is so odd but so, so good. Hammer's character is the door that leads us into the second half of the film, which, to put it lightly, is one of the most unexpected and almost unbelievable shifts in focus in the film's two hours. This reveal will make or break the film for you, as like most things it is out of left-field and seemingly unrelated to the bigger picture, but while I was initially too flabbergasted to take in what I was seeing, I bought into it.
It will surely take the weird factor too far for a lot of audiences, but maybe I was just in too good of a mood to dislike it. Like everything in the film, it isn't here for no reason. It has satirical relevance, but it takes it to the extreme. There are plenty of lighter scenes with good food for thought if this one doesn't strike the right chord with you. The most notable satirical distraction the film takes is a hilarious breakdown of modern rap music, and how white listeners react to certain words said in black entertainment.
Sorry to Bother You is all over the place, never seeming that coherent as it's simple premise may suggest, but it is made all the better for that. Knowing what you are getting into is half the battle, but please, don't seek out the twists and turns the film takes around just about every corner. Hell, watch the trailer. It conveys the tone without spoiling anything from the second half or any of the little touches that truly make this film so oddly delightful. This film is not for everyone, but I still suggest it as a must see. Is it the "best" movie of the year? No. Is it the most fun? Probably.
4 1/2 Stars
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