This review contains spoilers.
The title flashes on the screen and then goes to black. The audience laughs in joint confusion. Did the movie end just like that? Is Boots Riley really gonna do that to us? The answer is yes. But what led up to that abrupt ending was mind-blowing.
Going into Sorry to Bother You, I assumed it was going to be a cheesy, feel-good comedy movie with a sprinkle of action. I was wrong. Musician Boots Riley proves that not only is he great at making music, but movies too. His directorial debut tells the story of Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a telemarketer who adopts a “white voice” to move up the corporate ladder and become a “power caller.”
The film starts out by showcasing the day-to-day life of Cash. He lives in his uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and is looking for a job. When going in for a job interview he gets caught in a web of lies but gets hired anyway. His friend Sal (Jermaine Fowler) helped him get the job.
Cash starts the job immediately but couldn’t seem to make any sales. A coworker (Danny Glover) that sits next to him tells him to use a “white voice.” After implementing that with every call, Cash starts making an astonishing amount of sales. He joins a union started by another coworker named Squeeze (Steven Yeun). While being apart of the union, he gets promoted to “Power Caller”.
Tensions rise when Cash discovers that Power Callers sell slave labor to companies around the world from WorryFree–a company run by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) that gives employees housing and food in exchange for lifetime labor. With this large promotion, Cash steps back from the union and decides to support it from a distance so he can still keep his job. During the rest of the film, Cash contemplates what he values in life and what risks are worth taking.
Overall, the cast does an amazing job bringing this story to life. Every actor captures their roll–Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson have perfect on-screen chemistry, their arguments felt so raw and realistic. Steven Yeun’s character Squeeze copes with starting the union and protesting RegalView, and when Cash and Detroit are on the rocks he attempts to sneakily start something with her, perfectly conveying the emotion of carelessness. Armie Hammer’s smugness never seems to leave–not even for a moment. Jermaine Fowler delivers the comedic lines like, “That’s some puppet master voodoo s***.” with consistency.
Strong points of the plot would be its blunt critique of capitalism–the character’s name is literally “Cash” and that’s what motivates him throughout the film. He is willing to put other people’s lives on the line for a bigger check, and he does. The CEOs and higher-ups of the company get all of the money, meanwhile, the telemarketers at RegalView get nothing. Boots Riley also plays with the topic of race and privilege–hence Danny Glover’s character, Langston suggesting to Cash to use his “white voice” to get ahead. During Steve Lift’s party, Lift automatically assumes Cash has been involved in crime and knows how to rap. When Cash gets in front of the predominantly white crowd and attempts rapping, he is met with silence. When he starts yelling the n-word followed by “s***” to the beat, the crowd becomes hype and starts chanting along with him.
A weaker point of the whole movie was the protest scenes. In the beginning, they helped push the plot forward and display the motivations of the characters, but towards the climax and end of the movie, they became repetitive and pretentious. As the movie went on the crowds got bigger and bigger, but it felt like it was a crutch to fall back on when the main plot of the movie wasn’t enough. There was too much going on at moments, the fantastical elements along with loud protesters experiencing brutality felt overwhelming and distractful.
But in the end, Sorry To Bother You takes the relevant issues in the world such as trying to survive off of minimum wage (or below that) and paying bills, but also get ahead and not stay stuck where you are. Boots Riley compiled fantasy, comedy, and sci-fi together to make an astonishing and shocking film about race relations and the rat-race to get to the top, while somehow making us laugh throughout.
In conclusion, this film will leave you entertained and slightly confused but also enriched on issues that are important to today’s world. Sorry To Bother You is not a movie for the lighthearted, simply because of its absurd twists and turns that resemble a country backroad or for those who (in Boots Riley’s words), “…aren’t used to thinking and laughing at the same time…” But if you’re ready for a personified think-piece that includes human-horse hybrids, you’re in luck.