Directed by: Boots Riley
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermain Fowler, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, Omari Hardwick, Danny Glover
Written by Fiona Underhill
When I heard about the cast of this film towards the end of last year, my excitement levels went through the roof. Lakeith Stanfield was an extremely hot property after ‘Atlanta’ and ‘Get Out’, Tessa Thompson’s star had risen in 2017 with ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (and only increased this year with ‘Annihilation’ and ‘Dirty Computer’) and then there’s Armie Hammer, who was at the height of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ mania when we first heard about ‘Sorry to Bother You’. Debut director and hip-hop star Boots Riley perfectly timed assembling this ultra-cool cast and he came up with an exciting, risk-taking and original idea to complement them. This film has been my most-anticipated of 2018 for six months and it still managed to exceed my expectations. It’s more surprising, crazier, extreme and amazing than you can possibly imagine.
If you CAN go and see it, then run, don’t walk to your nearest cinema!
Cassius ‘Cash’ Green (Lakeith Stanfield) lives with his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) in his Uncle Serge’s (Terry Crews) garage. He desperately needs a job, so goes to a telemarketing company to try and work his way up. There he meets Langston (Danny Glover), who tells him that if he puts on a ‘white voice’, his calls will be more successful and he’ll make more money. He also meets Squeeze (a fantastic Steven Yeun), who along with Cash’s old friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) wants to unionize the workers at the company and demand benefits. Cash starts to gain success and begins to make his way towards becoming a coveted ‘Power Caller’; someone who gets to ride the gold elevator with a mysterious unnamed character (Omari Hardwick) to the top floor and make sales calls on a completely different level (selling arms and people – literally). He then finds himself torn between the promise of untold riches (and helping his Uncle save his home) and his friends and girlfriend on the bottom floor, trying to keep things real. This plot summary barely scratches the surface of what actually happens and especially the final third of the film goes in a completely unforseen direction. I urge you to try to remain as spoiler-free as you can, going in, because that will only add to the enjoyment.
The visual inventiveness that Riley has achieved on what was presumably a pretty small budget is insane. There are so many brilliant touches; when Cash is making his calls, you see him actually go into the homes of each of his targets and interact with them. When Cash starts to gain success, his new flashy belongings, like his TV set, grow out of his old worn items. The hair, make-up and costumes (particularly of Detroit) are witty, inventive and clever. The scene where Detroit opens her art show in a gallery, with performance art aspects is amazing. Omari Hardwick’s unnamed character is straight out of a Magritte painting with his bowler hat and apple, this time with the addition of an enormous handle bar moustache/beard. Everything about Armie Hammer’s character Steve Lift is bananas. He wears a kind of kilt/sarong, leather boots, a crop and they’ve even given him the subtle touch of David Bowie’s different coloured eyes, adding to his svengali-like status – you believe he could hypnotise you.
There are multiple themes running through the many layers of ‘Sorry to Bother You’ and a review isn’t really the right place to delve into the depths of them. This film will be analysed and picked apart, as it should be and the best people to do that with this film are people of colour (eg. Angelique Jackson, Soraya McDonald, Robert Daniels). This film has much to say about what black people have to face in white spaces and what they have to do to succeed in white-dominated worlds. The changing of register is just one example of how black people are dehumanised and that theme is taken to the extreme by the end. There is a sub-plot involving white people being used as slave labour which could have whole essays written about it in itself. There are parts of this film that will confront and disrupt the comfort of the viewer and there are parts that are hard to watch and listen to. But maybe that should be the case in a film that is revealing and highlighting what some black people have to live every day.
Yes, this film is hilarious and had the audience in hysterics, but it definitely will leave you with much to think about afterwards.
If there were any justice in the world, Stanfield would be in the running for an Oscar-nomination next February. His lead performance here is astounding and Thompson supports him with her incredible magnetism, commanding the screen whenever she is on it. This is one of the best debut feature films from a first time writer-director I’ve ever seen. Riley has been incredibly bold, inventive and has not compromised his unique voice. It’s an extremely well structured and edited film, with creative visual effects that are clever low-budget solutions, making a more interesting film than higher-budget blockbusters. I cannot recommend ‘Sorry to Bother You’ highly enough and I just hope that the international rights are sorted out, so audiences in the UK and beyond can see this film as soon as possible.