Satire is often designed to hold a mirror up to modern life and point out its absurdities and anxieties, while amplifying those factors to an entertaining end. It is incredibly hard to pull off, as too sharp of an approach can alienate an audience, while too soft of a play leaves it without the proper teeth to take hold of that same crowd. Somehow, Boots Riley's Sorry To Bother You succeeds in this balancing act, as the filmmaker's directorial debut plunges into the deep end of commentary with absolutely insane plotting and ferocious glee, if not always with the clearest of intentions in mind.
Based on an original screenplay by Boots Riley, Sorry To Bother You finds lowly RegalView telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) shockingly put on the fast track to success and named a Power Caller extraordinaire - all thanks to the use of his powerful White Voice (provided by David Cross). But as his fast rise leads to serious attention from a watchful corporate overlord (Armie Hammer), life begins to become increasingly weird for him, his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and the rest of the RegalView telemarketing staff.
Sorry To Bother You is one of the most fun and shocking movie experiences I've had in some time. While the film takes a little while to get started, it doesn't let go of your attention once it's kicked into high gear. Unfortunately, this comes after a bit of a rough first act, where so many abstract aspects and details of the particular world are thrown in that you're kept guessing as to what's important to keep in mind and what's merely set dressing. Future viewings may tie these aspects together in a better fashion, but upon first viewing there's some things that could have been streamlined in the name of the film's narrative.
That's not to say that Sorry To Bother You doesn't have something to say; rather, it has a lot to say, and lands the strong majority of what it's trying to get across. And that majority is a bold vision that invokes the work of greats like David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and most notably, Terry Gilliam. In fact, Sorry To Bother You feels like a spiritual remake of Brazil, as the pitch black absurdist comedy comments on modern society mix similarly with the same sort of slowly encroaching dread that Sam Lowrey's adventure embodied back in 1985.
Overcoming its slightly flawed narrative, Sorry To Bother You is an impressively confident debut, as writer/director Boots Riley attacks the images he's displaying with a visual language that's as alluring as it is enigmatic. And with a cast boasting leads like Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield, the film doesn't get lost on its way to the screen. Stanfield in particular shows his chops as a leading actor, going from a meeker victim of the system to a big wheel in a corporate machine, all the while selling his stature in life with equal physical and vocal prowess.
As for Thompson, Detroit, an independent artist, is a wonderful contrast figure to Stanfield's entrepreneurial Cassius, foiling whatever his current state in life may be at any given moment and reflecting it back at him with an extra dose of reality. It's a performance that further sells that she is more than ready to lead her own film. She's also surrounded with a strong supporting cast including Steven Yeun and Armie Hammer that help fill out the world of Sorry To Bother You to a point where however Cassius behaves, moves, or speaks registers with the rest of its thematic world.
A sneaky experience that demands multiple viewings, Sorry To Bother You is a scathing comedy that leaves everything on the field, even if it only needed to leave a good three-quarters on the field to get its point across. Most importantly, it's an entertaining experience that begs for decoding and discussion, as popular culture continues to try and make sense of an increasingly weird modern reality. It's a war cry, wrapped in laughter and horror, ready for you to meet its gaze and begin the conversation. By time the film flashes its title at the end of its closing credits, it's almost as if it's saying those words to its audience. It's up to you to determine if it's a biting barb, or an apologetic epilogue.