SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018)

Review by LL Soares

There’s a lot to like about Boots Riley’s feature film debut, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018), currently in theaters. First off, it’s the first film to cast Lakeith Stanfield as a leading man. Stanfield has been making a name for himself as a very interesting actor for the role of Darius, a kind of stoner sage, in the excellent FX series ATLANTA, as well as movie roles in SELMA (2014), STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015), and as Andrew Logan King, the guy who shouts “Get Out” when he has his picture taken in Jordon Peele’s GET OUT (2017). Stanfield is the kind of actor who just keeps you involved, wondering what he’ll do next, and it’s this unpredictability that makes him such a great lead character. He’s not your typical, heroic leading man type, which makes him all the more fascinating.

Here, Stanfield plays Cassius “Cash” Green, who just desperately needs a job. So much so that he brings a trophy and a fake “Employee of the Week” plaque to a job interview for a telemarketing job at a place called RegalView. His future boss sees right through the fake information on his resume, but hires him anyway because he’s a go getter.

At first, Cash isn’t very good at the job, and since he’s working on commission, things aren’t going well. Until one day a fellow employee named Langston (Danny Glover of the LETHAL WEAPON movies) gives him some advice: “Use your white voice.” Cash does just that (voice provided by comedian David Cross) and suddenly, he’s incredibly successful at his job, quickly getting promoted upstairs to where the “Power Callers” work.

The way Riley films the movie is also interesting. When Cash calls a potential customer, his desk drops down through the floor and crash lands in the home of the person he’s calling, providing a strong visual metaphor for how telemarketing calls intrude on people’s daily lives. There are also lots of visual gags, throughout, including graffiti defacing signs for a company called WorryFree, where people sign up for a lifetime of servitude in exchange for free housing and food: in other words, legalized slavery.

Other characters include Cash’s girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson, also in CREED, 2015, THOR: RAGNAROK, 2017, and ANNIHILATION, 2018), a who spins a sign part-time and who is also an artist. Secretly, she’s also part of a group called Left Eye that vandalizes signs for WorryFree and opposes the company. His uncle Sergio (Terry Crews, also in THE EXPENDABLES, 2010, and the show BROOKLYN NINE-NINE) lets Cash live in his garage and gives him a beat-up old car to drive. Jermaine Fowler (also on the TV show SUPERIOR DONUTS, and HBO’s CRASHING) is Cash’s friend Salvador, who also works at RegalView (Cash also gets Detroit a job there eventually). Squeeze (Steve Yeun, Glenn from THE WALKING DEAD, and the star of last year’s officer horror flick, MAYHEM) is a guy trying to set up a union among the RegalView workers, to demand better pay.

As Cash moves up to the top floor and starts making big money, he sees a chasm grow between him and Detroit, and his friends, but keeps at it, happy to have found something he’s finally good at. His work catches the attention of billionaire Steve Lift, the CEO of WorryFree, played by Armie Hammer (THE LONE RANGER, 2013, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., 2015, and most famously in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, 2017), who invites Cash and his new boss (Omari Hardwich, also on the shows BEING MARY JANE, 2013 -2014, and POWER)—whose character’s name is always beeped out when it’s spoken—to a drug- and sex-fueled party, and Lift makes a proposition involving human/horse mutants. And then things get really weird.

I saw this one in a packed theater, which was unusual since this movie is outside the mainstream and not for everyone. It’s a sometimes very dark satire of the corporate world, that has some very sharp barbs, and the often works quite well. As a first film, it has some flaws, but for the most part delivers the goods, and will hopefully make a star of Mr. Stanfield.

Boots Riley is also a rapper in the group The Coup, which provided the soundtrack for the film. He wrote the screenplay years ago and has been trying to get the movie made since. I’m glad it finally happened.

I give SORRY TO BOTHER YOU three and a half knives.

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© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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