Gimme a minute.
This movie’s one of the best of the year, although it’s not for everyone. If you’re not into surreal and outrageous humor/settings, you’re not gonna find this movie very entertaining. There’s a lot more to it than just that, but a hefty chunk of the movie is that. If you absolutely need everything to make logical sense, you should stay away from this one. If you’re cool with that kind of stuff, though, give this one a watch or several.
Sorry to Bother You focuses on the business endeavors of Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield), as he gets into the weird world of telemarketing. After starting out unsuccessfully, he discovers the key to making sales: using his “white voice”. From there, he begins an unprecedented climb to the top of the telemarketing company, where everything begins to devolve into madness. I can’t go into much more in the way of plot, but I can tell you this: If you go into this movie thinking you have an idea of where it’s gonna go, you’re wrong. Sorry to Bother You is a movie that, if you watch while intoxicated on any substance, will terrify you. If you watch while sober, it’ll blow your mind. It only gets weirder and wilder as it progresses. It’s more than just an oddity, meant to whisk you away into a fever dream-esque state of confusion and discomfort, it’s also one of the most loaded movies I’ve seen in a while. The amount of symbolism in this movie is so staggering that it took me two viewings to catch it all, and I don’t even think I got everything. It makes comment on reality TV, capitalism, anti-capitalism, racism, greed, human rights, social media dogpiling, the ethics of big business practices, and more. Writer/director Boots Riley clearly had a lot on his mind when he made this one.
Speaking of Mr. Riley, this is his first movie. As far as I’m concerned, this is easily on par with most filmmakers’ eighth or tenth. The way the story unfolds in both the writing and direction is expertly done. Despite the craziness of the film, nobody makes a decision that would be unbelievable in its’ universe, or even our own. Having believable characters in an outrageous universe was a good choice. It makes everything feel somehow real, as if this Oakland dystopia is a possibility somewhere down the line for us. You might be thinking “that’s stupid, Dawson, considering all the wild stuff that takes place in this movie. Honestly, I think your credibility’s gone down the drain since you posted that Road to El Dorado review.” Well, there’s a line in this movie that says “if you can’t do anything about a problem, you learn to get used to it”. That might have been the scariest line Boots wrote.
The actors all do a fantastic job, but I want to highlight LaKeith Stanfield. I love this guy. He brings a nervous energy that really lends to his role as a kind of in-betweener for the central conflict. His friends and family are on the anti-corporate side, but he is also receiving all the benefits of climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, and isn’t exactly complaining about any of them. He’s in a unique position, and he plays both sides convincingly. He never seems to fully commit to either side (at least, not until the end) and sees the positives and negatives of both sides. Or, at least, what he perceives those positives and negatives to be. He’s a very interesting pair of eyes to see the movie through. I don’t know how much attention he’ll get come awards season, though. His performance isn’t an uber-dramatic, emotional powerhouse. It’s one where you witness a man quietly unravel until he can’t take it anymore. He embodies the existentialism that a lot of twentysomethings feel nowadays, the kind where you witness so many messed up things that you become numb to it all. That kind of mentality can’t last forever, and LaKeith’s performance is a great example of why.
A couple of negatives before we continue (there aren’t many, so this won’t take long): there’s a song they play a few times that uses a sample that’s kind of grating, if it was only played once I wouldn’t have minded it. The movie takes a bit to get off the ground; some of the transitions in the beginning are a little awkward and leave a few scenes feeling incomplete. There are a couple scenes in a seemingly loud bar, but people whisper and they seem to be able to hear each other just fine. I could see someone thinking this movie’s got too much in terms of symbolism, and being turned off because of it. That’s about it.
This movie’s shot pretty well, although it’s not really an obvious quality like it is in Blade Runner 2049. The cinematography is less about looking pretty than it is about highlighting character changes and feelings. This, in conjunction with the lighting, make for a movie that’s very good at using the visual part of this visual medium. In addition, this movie’s got quite a bit of style. There’s a montage where Cassius finally starts getting paid that is both super interesting to watch and does an excellent job of communicating the passage of time. This movie’s also really good at passing in-universe time. There are no title cards that tell you how much time’s passed between scenes, and there’s no need for them. Cassius isn’t always super cognizant of time, so there’s no need for us to be either.
This movie’s also really funny. Armie Hammer’s character is a hilariously terrible person, he plays an egotistical CEO who thinks he’s the second coming of Christ and it’s wonderful. There’s a scene that simultaneously comments on how repetitive/dumb/shallow some popular rap is and how bold some white people are about saying the n-word, and it’s probably the funniest scene in the whole movie. There’s a pretty good amount of visual comedy and whenever it’s there, it’s funny. The main reason why this movie’s funny is because of the writing. In addition to telling the wild story in a way that effectively builds the tension and makes every unbelievable thing believable, it also takes full advantage of every crazy thing in the universe and makes a joke out of it. It makes the symbolism way more bearable and kind of accessible. A lot of the themes are told through jokes, so even if you miss the meaning of a scene, you’re probably laughing at it.
This movie’s one of those that’ll make you think about it whether you liked it or not. It’s an impressive debut by a new filmmaker, it’s an endlessly entertaining story, and someone once described it as something I’d make if I’d dropped a gallon of acid before writing it. See this movie.
Up next: TeChNoLoGy.Connect to me