SORRY TO BOTHER YOU — Review by Diane Carson

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Sorry to Bother You creatively and wildly skewers social practices. In his debut feature film, writer/director Boots Riley pushes immediately recognizable social irritants, such as telemarketers, to satirical limits and then, leaps beyond the anticipated critique into a wild, unexpected zone. Riley lands his critical indictment with a solid, alternately humorous and bewildering series of surprising, sometimes shocking, always brilliantly staged incidents. Continue reading…

In an introductory scene Cassius Green, called, knowingly, Cash Green, lies in an attempt to get a telemarketing job. He needs it, living in his uncle’s garage in Oakland with his charming, free-spirited girlfriend Detroit who twirls signs in front of businesses to entice customers. Once employed, Cassius yearns to rise to the upper echelons and flattering perks (a golden elevator, among them) of a power caller. Phenomenal success and a promotion follow because he has the uncanny ability to substitute a white voice for his own. But success puts him at odds with colleagues protesting slave wages and embracing union organizing to counter the company’s tyrannical conditions. The sinister world Cassius invades holds more astonishing, disturbing revelations that involve total identity destruction. I leave viewers to discover just how deep Riley goes indicting racism, capitalism, and greed—what he calls moral emaciation.

Visual and audio elements showcase a creative, clever artist. Riley hooks his audience immediately with phone audio even before a despondent Cash appears on screen. Once a telemarketer, Cash literally drops into his call targets’ space, a perfect metaphor for the way telemarketers intrude. But Riley doesn’t stop there. Known for his work with the Coup hip hop group, Riley makes Sorry to Bother You cinematically bold and thematically confrontational. On Fresh Air, he accurately described it as “absurdist dark comedy with magic realism and science fiction.” He breaks and redefines genre expectations, a mind-bending approach that is as welcome as it is inspired.

The actors deliver superb performances: Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius, Tessa Thompson as Detroit, Steven Yeun as union organizer Squeeze, Danny Glover as shrewd advisor Langston, and Armie Hammer as Steve Lift, CEO of the odious Worry Free group. Sorry to Bother You will bother you and should.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.