Sorry To Bother You was already an ingenious satire about racial dynamics in the work space, a breath of fresh air to counter the dull movies that seem to have overrun cinemas across the world, a fiery critique of capitalism, and an absurd representation of Oakland with enough artistry to make Michel Gondry melt — and then the equisapiens show up! Without going too in depth into the absurdist transfiguration of Earth Boots Riley’s has conjured, I must declare, I was transfixed by its absurdity and ability to consistently make you laugh in spite of the horror-show presented before your eyes.
You’ve never seen anything like it and if you want to go ahead and compare it to Putney Swope or the work of Gondry and early-Spike-Jonze, go ahead, but none of those works have the particular raging soul at the core of Sorry To Bother You, a raging soul that perfectly reflects the times we’re living through, a fierce soul that has been cultivated and unleashed onto the big-screen by the mighty power of Boot Riley’s bravado. Sorry To Bother You showcases a mighty voice that has been gestating, waiting for the perfect moment to unfurl itself before the world. Knowing Riley had been developing the project for a while, it is clear he knows just what he was doing with every intricate detail that conforms the gargantuan-critical-art-piece that Sorry To Bother You is. Tackling every element of our current culture with unrestrained ferocity, Sorry To Bother You comes across as the cinematic antidote to the doses of escapism we’re usually dowsed in, a startling wake-up call designed to make people remember the true power of cinema as an art-form.
As I stated earlier, Sorry To Bother You holds no bars, whether its poking-fun at the absurdity of violence-and-humiliation as entertainment by warping something so seemingly innocent as Wipeout! into I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me or even poking holes at what seems like the correct form of liberation by gradually chipping away at the morality of activist-art, Riley doesn’t hold back because he’s kept this within him for far too long. It seems as though Riley has condensed his rage, let it simmer, recognized the futility of his rage, laughed at the absurdity of it, and subsequently created Sorry To Bother You as a way to diffuse his universal qualms and confirm he’s not the only one going mad in the midst of today’s world.
Side-stepping the experience that is Sorry To Bother You, I would like to focus on its components, mainly Riley’s artistic ingenuity on display. Crafting schticks that would make Michel Gondry (who is briefly referenced) cry with happiness, Riley clearly demonstrates he has a unique voice, a voice that matters. Additionally, there’s the way he manages to glaze the chaotic world he creates with a gentle dose of absurdist humor all-throughout, perhaps the jokes may not always land, but they sure as hell entertain. Boasting a plethora of nonsensical elements, Riley manages to infuse each one with a singular charm and accompanying jocularity, such as a bit involving a ridiculously long password and a fancy elevator that kept me laughing the whole through even though I did not know why I was laughing, a bit that could honestly be placed in the midst of an Airplane! compilation and people would not even bat an eye.
Accompanying Riley’s unique charm stands Doug Emmett’s magnificent cinematography that establishes Oakland in this film as its very own kingdom, a place where anything can happen and no one will really realize. Except for our protagonist, Cassius Green, played by none other than Lakeith Stanfield. Mr. Green seems to realize how absurd things seem, but he plays along, he’s inactive, and then he’s not, but I won’t get into that, instead I’ll focus on the charming nature of Lakeith Stanfield and the brilliancy of his casting. The casting of Stanfield works tremendously in this film’s favor as he’s able to channel the qualities of an “everyman” and serve as the perfect vessel for the viewer who delights in sharing every startling revelation that is presented before Lakeith and him or herself. Also off the charts, is the always unforgettable Tessa Thompson who unleashes herself with unwieldy ferocity, demonstrating the same passion for artful-cinema she demonstrated during her breakout role in Dear White People. And then, there’s Armie Hammer who simply steals every scene he’s in even though he’s only in the film for a few minutes. Regardless of his appearance’s brevity, he’s an absolute scene-stealer, nailing the hilarious irrationality of the perfect white-villain. You can tell Riley and his casting director, Eyde Belasco, took meticulous care in assembling this cast, as everyone brings a trait of their own that elevates this film to an even-higher level, highlighting their passion for the project by giving wondrous performances all-around.
Sorry To Bother You is out there, in fact, it’s way out there, and it’s stupefyingly wondrous for that very reason. In spite of it only being his directorial debut, Boots Riley is able to create a world unlike no other, a singular universe contained within 111 minutes of absolute zaniness. Yet, in spite of the intricately designed and living art-world that Boots Riley has created, there’s a resonating frustration with our world that transcends the screen and slaps the viewer time and time again throughout the film’s runtime, reminding us of just how messed up our world is and inevitably doomed we are.