Hip-hop musician Boots Riley makes his screenwriting and directing debut with 2018’s “Sorry to Bother You.” To describe this film with all synonyms in the English language for the word “bizarre” would not even do it justice. “Sorry to Bother You” is peculiar, quirky, outlandish, ridiculous, and satirical, yet socially-convicting, fleshed out, existential, and richly-themed.
In a near-future Oakland, California, modern-day slavery and supposed indentured servitude has made a return, with the poor and outcast promised food, shelter, and other basic necessities, in exchange for an unfair balance of work and labor. The whole of society is strikingly lopsided, with racism, discrimination, and inequality notably prominent.
The narrative follows depressed, dispirited Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), and his spunky, enthusiastic girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), as they work to find meaning and success in a dreary world of alienation and oppression. Stanfield and Thompson blend seamlessly into their respective roles, backed up by a creditable supporting cast including Jermaine Fowler, Terry Crews, Omari Hardwick, Michael Sommers, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, and Robert Longstreet. The arc and development of Cassius Green’s character in particular is very substantial, as he finds an outlet to work his way up the ladder of society.
On the topic of Cassius Green’s journey to the upper class, this is where some of the story’s biggest surprises come. I will definitely say that for the first 75 minutes or so, it is undoubtedly a wacky and weird film, but this is taken to a completely new level at the 80 minute mark. If you decide to give this movie a watch, you will certainly know what I am talking about when you see this bonkers revelation. However, I will avoid discussing spoilers; I just felt it necessary to convey how utterly shocked I was at this storytelling decision (and not in a bad way). Green must learn lessons and concepts of race, humanity, society, and personal purpose in the most satirical, uproariously preposterous fashion possible, and it is stupidly entertaining to watch unfold.
In addition to writing and directing, Boots Riley also produced the film’s funky soundtrack, along with other rap and hip-hop artists including The Coup and Merrill Garbus. Tune-Yards composed the equally as eccentric score, perfectly fitting in with the film’s tone. This unique atmosphere was also further progressed by the colorful, vivid, bright, hallucinogenic art direction, headed by Stephen Dudro. It is wonderfully trippy and psychedelically beautiful. Doug Emmett’s cinematography, along with Terel Gibson’s editing style, are both extremely appropriate in regard to the expressive nature of this film. Finally, the costume design department, headed by Deirdra Elizabeth Govan tied things together with utterly goofy fashion creations that could not be more at home in a story.
Some audience members may walk away from this one completely confused, bewildered, and quite frankly, disturbed. Well, actually, everybody probably will. Yet, there is some strikingly relevant social commentary, and hilarious discussions on questions from the deepest depths of the human spirit. Regardless of one’s race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc., there is something to be taken away from the core of this film.