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).