Director: Boots Riley
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Larise Cumming
Telemarketer Cassius ‘Cash’ Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is looking for a way to make some money so that he can move out of his uncle’s house and live independently. Whilst not much of a salesman, he takes some much-needed advice from a coworker, tips that suddenly turn Cash into a ‘Power Caller’. His success is noticed, and he meets – and quickly looks up to – CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). But when his friends start a union to protest the low wages they’re receiving, Cash is caught in the middle. Can he support his friends and keep his high-paying job at the same time? And is Steve Lift really everything that Cash thinks he is?
That’s the conflict at the heart of Sorry To Bother You, a film whose initial concept is both darkly comedic and absurd in equal measure. It’s backed up by an impressive screenplay that grips quickly. And whilst many of the events within the film may be unbelievable enough for the audience to potentially lose interest, the way the characters are written is authentic and original. They make the alternative world instantly convincing. Even though the film has you laughing in strange places and confused in others, it’s the characters who really fuel it.
Impressively, the film’s been written and directed by someone who wouldn’t necessary be associated with the film industry, at least to date. That would be Boots Riley, who’s come up with something really rather special. What could have been a small, off-radar film is lifted by being a quite expert blend of the absurd, dark comedy, science fiction, and fantasy.
That does come with a price. It feels like the film only decides what it wants to be, and what story it wants to tell, halfway through. There were times when I felt like I was watching two completely separate movies. One about a telemarketer who battles his conscience when he starts to make more money than his friends/co-workers, and one about a CEO who’s running a mysterious, fantastical company that dives head-first into the odd. While these stories do sit well together, I did start to wonder if maybe they should be kept separate.
But it does all work, notably because it’s a story that has something to say. Thus, whether you’re a fan of absurdist entertainment or not, the fundamental properties of this film lie within this telemarketing company, and the fact that Cash’s morals are being tested the further he climbs up the company ladder. And that turns out to be a story well worth engaging with.