Sorry to Bother You (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A wild, morbid social satire

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“Sorry to Bother You” is a wild, morbid social satire I will not easily forget. Although it took some time for me to get accustomed to its outlandish satiric approach which is alternatively baffling and amusing, I could not help but tickled by a number of broad but acerbic moments in the film, and I came to be quite impressed in the end by how far the movie is willing to go for its crazy satire.

During the opening scene, we meet Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a black lad who has struggled to get out of his unemployed status. While he has been allowed to live in the garage of his uncle’s house, he has been already behind several weeks in paying the rent to his uncle, and we see him trying as much as he can during his job interview at a big telemarketing company.

It turns out that Cash is not that honest during his job interview, but, to his surprise, he promptly gets hired, and then he finds himself working in a drab office space along with a bunch of other employees including his friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), who got employed before him. As instructed by his direct boss, Cash calls potential customers one by one while sticking to the script provided by the company, but, not so surprisingly, he only gets rejected again and again, and the movie further accentuates the absurdity of his situation as having him appearing right in front of potential customers he talks with.

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Due to his continuing failure to get his potential customers interested, Cash becomes more frustrated day by day, but then he gets a useful advice from an old, seasoned black guy named Langston (Danny Glover). He advises Cash that he should find a ‘white voice’ inside him and then use it for persuading potential customers, and he briefly demonstrates to Cash how effortlessly he can sound like your typical white guy. At first, Cash is not so sure about whether he can sound like a white guy, but, what do you know, he soon comes to find his own white voice, and he is excited as getting his first moment of success thanks to his white voice.

As he keeps getting more good results, Cash is eventually sent up to a department where ‘Power Callers’ works, and he is told that he always has to use his white voice while working in this department, but he does not mind that much because, well, he cannot possibly resist that sweet smell of success – even when he learns of what exactly he and other Power Callers sell around the world in the name of profit. Thanks to his rising status in the company, he becomes a lot more affluent than before, and now he lives in a big, comfortable apartment which is certainly better than his previous residence.

Meanwhile, many of Cash’s former co-workers decide to start a strike as they have been sick of their unfair work condition. While Cash’s artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is sympathetic to their cause after working with them for a while, Cash does not care much about that, and he only tells his former colleagues that he will support them from the distance even though he continues to work as a Power Caller as usual.

Of course, Cash soon comes to see the price of success via his outrageous encounter with Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the CEO of a big corporation which has profited from having thousands of people stuck with a lifetime labor contract. After his wild evening party, Lift shows Cash how much he is willing to go further for more profit, and that is a shock to the system for Cash, who comes to realize how he has let himself oblivious to what is going on around him just because of money and success.

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Around that narrative point, the movie becomes quite more outrageous than before, and some of you may not like that, but I admire how the movie goes all the way for more barbed laughs. With its deliberately exaggerated visual style which is established well on the screen by cinematographer Doug Emmett, the movie constantly emphasizes the warped reality surrounding its characters, and we come to observe its story and characters from the distance, but we cannot help but amused as it cheerfully keeps hopping from one preposterous moment to another. Although it is not always successful in its attempts (the sequence involved with Detroit’s art exhibition is rather superficial), the movie mostly works thanks to its considerable wit and energy, and the propulsive electronic score by Tune-Yards and The Coup adds extra humor and excitement on that.

The main cast members of the movie are effective in their respective broad archetype roles. As Lakeith Stanfield, a talented actor who has steadily advanced since his memorable supporting turn in “Short Term 12” (2013), diligently holds the center, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and Armie Hammer have each own fun moments around him, and I also enjoyed the wry voice performances from several well-known performers (Some of them provide those white voices in the film, by the way).

“Sorry to Bother You” is the first feature film from director/writer Boots Riley, who has been mostly known for his music career. As far as I can see from the film, he is a good filmmaker who knows how to engage and entertain audiences, and it will be interesting to see what will come next from him. I must emphasize again that the movie may be too wild for some of you, but it is surely one of the most notable debut films of this year, and I think you really should check it out as soon as possible.

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