Sorry to Bother You (2018) is an inventive film that’s full of humor, character, and lots of social commentary. The cast is outstanding, and Boots Riley does a terrific job for his directorial debut. There are a number of elements with the film that one wouldn’t expect to see from a first-time filmmaker which makes this a clear standout from the other films of the year…not to mention the story that never really lets you know where it’s going to end up, and left the crowd at my screening shocked into nervous laughter multiple times.
Sorry to Bother You will shock you, but you’ll be laughing for much of the crazy ride
Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is in desperate need of a job – but, probably more importantly – the need of fulfillment. He follows his friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) to a job as a telemarketer for RegalView, and soon after Cash finds out that he’s a natural at this job. His activist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), tries to keep Cash “real”, despite him slowly buying into the companies promises of a potential promotion as a “power caller”, where he can truly shine and make lots of money. As he ascends within the company, Cash finds himself at a moral crossroads and has to make choices that could deeply affect his life and the relationships he cherishes.
I don’t feel I’m the only one thinking this, but Tessa Thompson needs all the awards already. She is a true actress who blends into every role so much that it often takes me a moment to realize who I’m watching. Let’s look back over the last year, and slightly into the future of this one: Thor: Ragnarok, Annihilation, Little Woods, Creed II, and this film. She has been amazing in each of these (okay, I’m basing her performance in Creed II from her role in the first film…but still), and she plays a very different character in each film. Here, she is given several opportunities to show off her talent. Part of this is a result of her being an influential voice in the ear of Cash.
Lakeith Stanfield is a star. Everything I’ve been able to see him in has impressed me, and in Sorry to Bother You, he really gets to shine. Cash has confidence, yet an awkwardness about him, and Stanfield is able to juggle both sides very well. He is funny and empathetic, so the audience is able to connect with him and can get what he is going through. That part is critical, as the film takes some weird turns that could definitely push the audience out of it – but if they’re connected with Cash, all is well.
It’s hard to get into every way that Boots Riley was innovative without revealing story elements. However, one of the ways that are shown in the trailer is how he chose to show Cash’s job as a telemarketer. Many filmmakers would have opted to shoot the phone calls from just Cash’s perspective, possibly hearing the other party or just getting his reactions. Others would have opted to do a shot-reverse-shot sort of thing, where we see both Cash and the person on the other line. Instead, Boots has Cash crash into the spaces of the people on the other line. He seems to be aware of the fact that this is happening, as in one example where his computer monitor almost falls over, and he even reacts to the odd shaking before it happens. Yet, it’s a very interesting visual each time it’s done, and a far more compelling way to show this job. It’s a good example of the way Boots presents the world.
While I know I need to rewatch this film at least a couple more times to get everything it is saying, Sorry to Bother You was excellent. At the very least, it’s one of the most innovative films I’ve seen this year, with some of the year’s funniest moments. Stanfield and Thompson are great, but so is the strong supporting cast including Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and, possibly most emphatically, Armie Hammer. This film probably won’t work for everyone, but I promise you that you’ll be left asking “WTF!” at the very least. I give Sorry to Bother You the Must See rating.