A campfire story

Once there was a woman who loved to travel. Her favorite place to visit in all of the world was Italy, and especially Rome. She would spend hours walking around the city square, visiting the old ruins of the Coliseum and the Forum, talking to young men and women on the subway, and taking in the wonderful Mediterranean air. At the end of every trip, she would visit the famous Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain, as you know, is the final destination of many trips to Rome. For there is a legend that says if you throw three coins into the fountain, you will return to Rome at least one more time. Because of this tradition, there are many vendors around who will gladly make change for a 5000 lire note for a small fee so you can throw your coins in the fountain and hopefully return one day to that magnificent city.

This young woman was one of the many people who forgot to bring coins with her on her trip to the fountain. She went up to one of the vendors, and in a light voice said, "Sorry to bother you, but may I make change?" The vendor, a young man named Bellini, was more than happy to help her. They chatted a bit about the weather and the silliness of tourists, and then the young woman threw her coins in the fountain, waved goodbye to Bellini, and left.

One year later, Bellini was still working as a vendor at the fountain, when he felt a tap on his shoulder, and a voice saying, "Sorry to bother you ..." He turned around, and who should it be but the young woman from before! Bellini smiled. "It is fortunate that you should come back to Roma," Bellini said in his pidgin English. The young woman nodded, and held out a note for Bellini to change. Their transaction complete, the coins were tossed once more into the fountain.

Year after year, Bellini worked at the fountain, and year after year, the woman would tap him on the shoulder, say, "Sorry to bother you," and make change for her note. It was a wonderful thing, and both soon came to expect their paths to cross.

Then one year, the woman showed up. She was no longer the young woman, and Bellini no longer a young man. With a light tap on the shoulder and a "Sorry to bother you," the two embraced warmly. They talked about Italy, and its beautiful hills and their love for the country, and Rome, and the fountain. After awhile, Bellini began to get out coins to trade for her note - he had stopped charging her long ago. The woman stopped him. "My amico, I thank you for everything you've done for me. But I'm afraid I won't be throwing any more coins in the fountain."

Bellini looked at her with strangeness. "Surely you are joking!" he said with a half-hopeful laugh. She shook her head. "But please, as a final gift, a picture of us." She called out to one of the photographers who frequented the popular square. He made his way over and took their picture in front of the fountain. She paid the man, gave Bellini the picture, and then with a final wave, she left the square. Bellini did not know what to think.

The next day, Bellini walked past a newsstand when a picture caught his eye. It was a picture of his American friend! He grabbed the paper and read the headline: "HEIRESS TO BE BURIED IN ROME." The article went on to say that the woman was none other than Henrietta Mathis, whose father had made billions in steel and coal at the turn of the century. Her dying wish had been to be buried in Rome, her favorite place. Bellini smiled at the sentiment. Then he came across a curious line. Miss Mathis had passed away nearly a month prior, but her body had only been transported to Rome the night before.

It must be a mistake!, Bellini thought as he pulled out his wallet and the picture from the night before.

In it was Bellini standing in front of the beloved Trevi Fountain. Alone.

A financially-challenged man gets a job as a telemarketer, and quickly finds himself complicit in a nightmarish, dystopian scheme to sell arms and de facto slave labor.

Sorry to Bother You, the full-feature debut of rapper/composer/director Boots Riley, begins as an inventive comedy. The film, for example, literally drops its cold-calling protagonist, Cassius, into the lives of the people he phones at their most inconvenient moments. Gradually, it opens into a broader satire, with the humour turning very dark and disturbing. Overall, the approach proves distressingly effective. By the final act, we're full-tilt into SF dystopia, slightly reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut, with elements so absurd they could be contemporary news. The actors do a good job, overall, of realizing the script. As for its visuals, the director's inventiveness combine with modern tech to create impressive effects shots where required.

Satirists are at war with the world, often screaming themselves hoarse with outrage at human foibles. Their work can turn wildly anarchic, taking issue even with their own artistic and structural conventions. That isn't always a flaw, but Sorry to Bother You gallops out of control at times, crashing recklessly into targets in a manner that may cause you to lose track of the plot.

The film focuses its satire on economic systems, class, race, and political power, but, along the way, it takes shots (a few of them good-natured, but many, quite angry) at absolutely everything that crosses its path. The privatization of prisons? Reality TV? Sexism? Performance Art? "Right to Work" Laws? The death of privacy? Cultural stereotypes? Motivational speakers? Youtube? Rap? Recreational drugs? Meme culture? All targeted. I could keep typing, but I imagine you get the point.

Be forewarned that you may be offended or bothered at some point or other, especially if you identify as (insert anything you identify as here).

And I suspect Boots Riley isn't sorry about that one bit.

Directed and written by Boots Riley

LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius Green
Tessa Thompson as Detroit
Jermaine Fowler as Salvador
Steven Yeun as Squeeze
Danny Glover as Langston
Omari Hardwick as Mr. _______
Terry Crews as Sergio
Kate Berlant as Diana DeBauchery
Armie Hammer as Steve Lift
Michael X. Sommers as Johnny
Robert Longstreet as Anderson
David Cross as Cassius's White Voice
Patton Oswalt as Mr. _______'s White Voice
Lily James as Detroit's White British Voice
Forest Whitaker as First Equisapien / Demarius
Rosario Dawson as Voice in Elevator
Shelley Mitchell as Mrs. Costello
Indigo Jackson as Cynthia Rose / Neanderthal Woman
Eric Jacobus as Blackwater Commander
Elaine A. Clark as Game Show Host
Sara Buskirk as Worry Free Commercial Voice
Mistah F.A.B. as Passenger
Safiya Fredericks as Colette
Thessaly Lerner as DIY Wig-Making Host
Ken Gamble, Tom Woodruff Jr. as Equisapiens


Although some will view the movie as a specific critique of America under Donald Trump, Riley intended his satire to be far-reaching. He penned most of the script years earlier, and even removed the line, "Worry Free is making America great again"—written before Trump starting using a similar line—to minimize the notion that he was writing a narrow critique (quoted in Morrison, P. "Boots Riley on power, organizing and who really runs the country. (Hint: It's not Trump)." Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2018).

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