Sometimes at the festival I randomly just go see a film I know fuck all about. Sorry to Bother you is one of those random picks and I am so glad it was. In fact a fellow journalist on the way in told me it was an Ivan Reitman film. Within 4 seconds of the film starting I was pretty damn certain she had got that wrong. Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley is quite unlike anything I’ve seen recently. Fresh, funny and bizarre with all round fantastic performances and a LOT crammed in, commenting on racial dynamics, corporate greed, African American identity whilst aiming a huge flaming arrow at the heart of the idiocy of some facets of modern society.
Lakeith Standfield is fantastic as Cassius Green, a hard working young dreamer living in an ‘alternate present’ Oakland, California. He has a wonderful girlfriend in the shape of Detroit (my parents wanted me to have an American name, she says) deliciously played by Tessa Thompson. The two lovebirds live in Cass’s uncle’s garage scraping by, but happy. Despite lying about pretty much everything in the interview, Cass lands a job a Regalview (oh the irony of that name) telemarketer, as his boss (robbery Longstreet) says, you have initiative and you can read – job is yours.
At first Cass gets hang-up after hang-up all played in a very nice in camera trick where Cass literally lands wherever the caller is picking up from. Still no luck, until some advice from his co worker (Danny Glover) to ‘use his white voice’. When Cass is confused Glover explains that it’s not Will Smith white but somewhere near that. This new voice comes out (voiced by Patton Oswald) and suddenly Cass is landing call after call. As this newly crowned young black capitalist climbs the worrying ranks, Detroit and his friends are becoming more renegade and the cracks begin in his relationship with them and him. I mean this literarily– at one point Cass gets hit in the head with a can and it bizarrely becomes a kids costume favourite (called Have a Cola and Smile Bitch) and the rest of the movie he has a bandage in his head while the bloody rolls into his eye. A company called WorryFree is offering what looks like a stress-free life but is actually slave labour and this is what Cass finds himself embroiled in with its creator Steve Lift (a hilarious LA fake shaman in Armie Hammer). The plot then goes slightly bonkers (if it wasn’t already) in the shape of mutating horse people with giant penises and bacchanalian, Dante-esque surreal party scenes.
There is so much to talk about in Sorry To Bother You that I can’t do it justice in this mini review. One particularly cringe inducing bit is when Cass is encouraged to rap at a party with 99% white people, he protests he is shit at rapping, turns out he really is DESPITE being black. So he just starts chanting ‘Nigger Shit’ over and over again and the crowd start saying it with him. This satire that is not taking any prisoners and it hits you like a train. There is buzz of the script being Oscar nominated and I hope it is. The humour and originality keeps coming at the viewer. Meanwhile through the laughter this feeling settles in one’s stomach in that as funny and as ludicrous as Sorry To Bother You is, too much of it could be true, is true and needs to woken up to.