Sorry To Bother You is perhaps the most glorious clusterfuck I’ve seen in years, and I mean that as the biggest compliment I can possibly give it. It’s Terry Gilliam’s Brazil via Cronenberg’s body horror by way of Justien Simien’s Dear White People with a little of Karl Marx in there to, and even that doesn’t come close to actually describing the wildly ambitious ride that debut director Boots Riley has delivered here.
Sorry To Bother You follows Cash Green (Lakeith Stanfield), an underachieving young man who winds up working at a call centre to make ends’ meet. It’s there that he finds himself wrapped up in the burgeoning efforts of a small union to establish worker’s rights against the heaving, dystopian autocracy of WorryFree, a mysterious company that wields incredible power with nefarious results.
I suppose this film might sound a little dry if you were to try and sum it up, but Sorry To Bother You is anything but. It’s a hyper-pigmented communist manifesto set against the backdrop of an unending stream of gloriously-observed wit, using the vague connections to our everyday to build something that’s just grounded enough to get away with overdub David Cross on to Stanfield’s character because his White Voice is more appealing to the homogeny that Cash’s own. Social satire can often feel laboured, trying to please as it tries to question, but Sorry is unyielding in what it tries to achieve, and lands every beat as a result.
A lot has to be said here about the performances: Lakeith Stanfield puts in yet another dextrous, mobile performance, while Tessa Thompson is as impossibly charismatic as ever as his artist girlfriend, constantly draped in expletive-laden jewellery and living in a garage. Steven Yeun, freed from the greasy paws of The Walking Dead at last, puts in a very watchable turn as the man pushing the union forward, while Armie Hammer is typecast as a representation of white, straight, male capitalism.
But more than anything, I would argue that it is Boots Riley, who writes and directs, who has turned Sorry To Bother You into such a surging success. Riley has long been involved in socialist and anti-racism movements, and has outright stated that this film is meant to be unsettling for the people who wield their power in such destructive ways. So often, we ask our films to be stripped of politics, to have the person behind the camera doing not much more than making it look pretty, but Riley hasn’t just created a film that reflects his politics – Sorry To Bother You is his politics, written large via exasperated comedy, sharp satire, and twisted horror, which is a pretty bold choice for a debut director.
And honestly, I think that Riley’s first-timer status really plays to his advantage here. Because the kind of film that Sorry To Bother You is falls so far outside the realm of anything I’ve seen in a long time – its relationship to genre is slippery, the style bold and striking, the vision singular – and I can’t imagine any established director making a film like this one. But, luckily for Boots Riley, he’s not an established director – we don’t know what a Boots Riley film looks like, so he can invent his own cinematic style fresh right there in front of us. And, if Sorry to Bother You is anything to go by, it’s a style that I can’t wait to see again.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Vox)