Directed by Boots Riley (2018)
Starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Danny Glover, Jermaine Fowler, Steven Yeun
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA rating: R
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
Every so often a film like Sorry to Bother You comes along that will most likely leave cinema goers with a feeling of bewilderment over what they witnessed across the screen. For those of us that have seen flicks such as John Carpenter’s They Live, a movie like Sorry to Bother You will channel our inner Roddy Piper and have us muttering, “Ha, figures it'd be something like this.”
Boots Riley’s feature debut takes a left turn but ultimately ends at an enjoyable destination. It delivers a meaningful message that is told creatively and backed up with a notable cast. Unfortunately, I think this is a film that we needed about ten years ago. As much as I enjoyed the film, I wondered who exactly the intended audience is. For, the ones the film hopes to open the minds of, probably won’t watch it.
Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is a late twenty-something in Oakland, California barely existing while living in his uncle’s garage. His life changes for the better and worse when he obtains a job as a telemarketer. A job which he describes, “makes him feel like an asshole”. For many that have had experience working for Satan aka a huge multinational corporation, most will agree with Cassius’ sentiment. Just as Cassius is ready to throw in the towel on this gig, his co-worker Langston (Danny Glover), an experienced telemarketer, reveals the job is more than just “sticking to the script”. Langston reveals the secret to his success: white voice.
With the assistance of his white voice (voiced by David Cross), Cassius quickly begins his ascent of the corporate ladder, earning him hi-fives from his managers and praise from his floor supervisor, comically named Diana DeBauchery (DE-bau-sher-AY). Despite the other employees experiencing fatigue and anger with the slave-like culture of the office environment, Cassius is blinded by the golden goose. While his co-workers are busy devising plans of unionizing and walking out, Cassius has his mind set on becoming a “power caller," a role within the company that requires snazzy suits, a daily ride in a gold-lined elevator and a 24/7 white voice.
The film does an excellent job of representing a lot of real-life situations that have been occurring for far too long in our society: our lives being run by corporations, a capitalistic system that uses the work of many and rewards only the few, a system that treats employees like slaves to sell their product to the privileged, who purchase said product without any concern of the way in which it arrived in their hands.
The more I think about this movie, the more it angers me for a multitude of reasons. For one, we need more flicks like this. It was not the overall message that shocked me as much as the way in which it was told. Boots Riley’s method of storytelling is extremely impressive. Additionally, he offers a view of a diverse group of individuals that often barely obtain screen time other than to show up as a stereotypical second-rate character for comic relief. This is a film that shows us that at the end of the day we are all just trying to survive this crazy ass place. It does not matter what color, sex, or creed we are, everyone just wants to live that happy life. It also represents how we often can forget the simple pleasures when under the spell of money. Money can often make many of us do horrible things, including trading in our self-respect.
My only real complaint with the film is, more or less, also a complaint about myself. It did not really dawn on me until after discussing the flick with my partner in crime, that I realized one of the huge issues with the film itself: female characters.
Now I just want to get this out of the way: I love Tessa Thompson. If you have seen her in Thor: Ragnarok or Annihilation, you know what I am talking about. This woman can do no wrong and is a gift to us. So, it pains me that she was underutilized in this story. It is guaranteed that when her character, Detroit, makes her first appearance on the screen you will want to know everything about her. Her eccentric attire (she has super-rad earrings, which you can buy here), her bonkers zany visual artist personality that wants to take down the system/man…is sorta kind of wasted. For some reason, this character is utilized only as a “love interest” to simply move the main character’s plot forward and ultimately helping him arrive at his epiphany. I do not even recall a single scene in which another female character interacts with Detroit on any meaningful level (if at all).
This problematic issue will most likely go unnoticed by most viewers. Heck, I’ll admit I missed it. However, this is also a statement on the beauty of the storytelling that is happening within the film. You find yourself so wrapped up in the craziness such as the eerily accurate portrayal of a Satan reincarnate CEO portrayed by Armie Hammer, the witty dialogue, and Michel Gondry-esque filmmaking techniques that were utilized. All of these devices used as smoke screens to mask a real problem. It’s the problem that Cassius's co-worker, Squeeze (Steven Yeun) so perfectly and eloquently points out to you: when the problem exists for so long you just kinda get used it. Meaning, the lack of female representation in movies has become so commonplace for this old sport that I almost missed this glaring omission.
Watch this movie, for it is a step in the right direction but we still have some work to do when it comes to female representation.