VOD film review: Sorry to Bother You
James R | On 24, Jun 2019
Director: Boots Riley
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson
Watch Sorry to Bother You online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Boots Riley certainly knows how to make an impression. The director’s astonishing comedy manages that rare thing of constantly surprising you – what starts out as a likeable tale of someone taking a job in a call centre spirals into a caustic satire of modern America.
Get Out and Straight Outta Compton star Lakeith Stanfield is on fantastically charismatic form as Cassius, who goes to work in the call centre in a bid to impress his girlfriend, Detroit (the always-excellent Tessa Thompson). But he soon finds, thanks to a tip-off from Danny Glover, that putting on a “white person voice” is the only way for a young African-American to find success. And so he jumps from hang-ups and cold calls to being one of the company’s hottest new employees, bagging big clients and even bigger bucks, all the while cashing in on his sold-out morals.
Riley charts that rapid, jolting journey with a wonderful slice of surrealism, as we see Cassius’ desk drop literally into people’s living rooms and offices to interrupt their day, while David Cross’ dubbed voice syncs with Cassius’ mouth speaking the telesales script – a comical disjunct that reinforces the jarring reality of the baritone vocals considered supposedly neutral by society. The film doubles down on that fine line between wackiness and shrewd observation, balancing an escalating strike from a worker’s union (that Cassius fails to support) with an increasingly audacious vision of where the modern service industry might go.
On the one hand, there are amusing nods to meme culture and and on the other, there’s a serious study of identity, loyalty and the commodification of people perceived as lower class. Trying to stand up for the disenfranchised results in violence, as well as bizarre experimental art shows, and as things descend into physical farce, the collision of everyday privilege and what happens when others try to harness that power is absurdist satire at its sharpest; Sorry to Both You is bold, unpredictable and stuffed with a hard-hitting critique of capitalism and racial prejudice. By the time Armie Hammer turns up snorting coke with a self-aware grin, you end up watching, gob-smacked, as one filmmaker’s imagination gallops through the whole thing. What a wild ride.
Sorry to Bother You is available on BBC iPlayer until 12th October 2021