'Sorry to Bother You' eventually loses its way in a welter of surreality

There’s a promising satirical idea embedded in 'Sorry to Bother You,' but the writer-director, Boots Riley, doesn’t quite know how to extricate it.

Annapurna Pictures/AP
Tessa Thompson (l.) and Lakeith Stanfield star in 'Sorry To Bother You.'

There’s a promising satirical idea embedded in “Sorry to Bother You,” but writer-director Boots Riley, the hip-hop artist making his directing debut, doesn’t quite know how to extricate it. He may not care. The film’s barbs about racism, capitalism, slavery, and cultural appropriation are so purposefully scattershot that the fact that none of it really hangs together is likely viewed as a badge of honor.

Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is living in his uncle’s Oakland, Calif., garage and is months behind in his rent. Rousing himself for a job interview with a telemarketing company, he soon lands work in their dungeonlike basement. Encased in a cubicle, he makes no headway until an older employee (Danny Glover) suggests he use his “white” voice when pitching on the phone. (What’s being pitched are print encyclopedias, no less – one of the first signs that the world of this movie is heavily askew.)

His success at sounding white is so spectacular that soon Cash is breaking sales records and gets promoted upstairs as a “power caller.” Until this point, the film is reasonably creepy-funny, even if the satire, starting with the chief protagonist’s name, isn’t exactly subtle. I mean, Cash Green?

But once Armie Hammer enters the picture as the overlord of the nefarious corporation behind the telemarketing outfit, the movie loses its way in a welter of surreality. The corporation, heavily advertised in the media, is called Worry Free. It promises a hassle-free existence to all those who sign up for a lifetime labor contract in their factory, where one lives and dies in Orwellian regimentation. It’s a crackbrain dystopia – sci-fi slave labor – and Riley doesn’t have the imaginative reach (or the budget) to make much of his conceit.

Most of the film, which also has links to Spike Jonze’s "Being John Malkovich," plays like a variation on some of Spike Lee’s more scabrous racial fantasias like “Bamboozled.” It’s also very much in the vein of films like “Get Out,” which also mixed horror, racial comedy, and social consciousness, though here to far less effect. Stanfield, who was memorable in “Get Out,” is once again good, if a tad too zombified, and, as his activist girlfriend, Tessa Thompson has just the right amount of gumption. Grade: B- (Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use.)       

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'Sorry to Bother You' eventually loses its way in a welter of surreality
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Movies/2018/0705/Sorry-to-Bother-You-eventually-loses-its-way-in-a-welter-of-surreality
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe