Sorry to Bother You
Written and Directed by Boots Riley
Starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Terry Crews. Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Omari Hardwick, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, Kate Berlant
We are fortunate in this age of binge-watching, tentpole-driven media landscape to have as unique a voice as Boots Riley. His latest film, “Sorry to Bother You” is the second film this year to be set in and feature Oakland, California; to paint a picture of the citizens who make up the culture and history of the city.
Riley’s film starts out as unassuming a film as one could expect. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is down on his luck: he’s living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and is out of work. Using his own ingenuity, he lands a job at RegalView, a telemarketing firm a la “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Boiler Room.” Cash has trouble at first finding his place until he meets Langston (Danny Glover) who teaches him the secret to closing the deal.
Not everything is as it seems as Riley layers in an ongoing storyline about a one-stop shop company, WorryFree that feeds, shelters and employs those who are also down on their luck. As Cash progresses to the next level of selling, his world collides with the real world with hilarious and dark consequences.
The world that Riley creates is very much in the same vein as Terry Gilliam’s dystopic “Brazil.” The world is well lived in and the characters are believable. The strength Riley’s approach is in his dual story telling. The cast bridges the storylines so effortlessly that you don’t notice the world coming unglued. Stanfield’s physical performance throughout is subtle and graceful. He never loses his cool. You believe that his character is experiencing the events that happen to him.
As subtle as the events Cash experiences are, the supporting cast buoys those experiences. Though their presence in the film is limited, the impact of Danny Glover’s Langston and Armie Hammer’s Steve Lift are critical to the flow of both stories. Tessa Thompson’s Detroit serves a number of purposes throughout the course of the film and her performance flows right along as if nothing was amiss. Steven Yeun plays Squeeze. His character is pivotal as an employee at RegalView as if Jermaine Fowler’s Sal, Cash’s best friend.
Riley’s direction is natural. His story requires the audience to be as engaged the characters are, each an active participant. The use of humor is as natural as the violence is in the film; the themes Riley speaks of are loud and clear. There is a confidence along with a humility. He doesn’t know everything, but his imagination takes over and is razor sharp. There’s something unique about the way Riley wrote the “white” version of Cash and Hammer’s Lift; they parallel each other without stepping over one another. Their motions are subtle and they compliment one another. It’s a moment of perfect casting and characterization.
This film won’t be for everyone, but it should be seen by everyone. Boots Riley is a modern Terry Gilliam. He has a flare for the imaginative, a gift for the truth and he absolutely loves sharing world views with an audience who will listen. “Sorry to Bother You” captivated this reviewer and I’ll shout praises about the film until I’m blue in the face.
4 out of 4