FILM REVIEW: "Sorry to Bother You" Requires all 111 Minutes of Your Time
Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley, begins with a fantastic premise. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a black telemarketer living in a semi-dystopian Oakland, California begins using a ‘white voice’ during his work calls. From this unique and provocative foundation, the film explodes down multiple avenues. Race relations; unions; individual success in a world of inequality; the role of radical art in promoting social change; the blurred line between compelled labour and indentured servitude – this is a highly abridged list of topics the film touches on. I could go on. And that is to this film’s detriment as well as its credit.
Sorry to Bother You is hard to review for a number of reasons. The cavalcade of topics it deals with, numerous twists and highly stylized tone make it innately divisive. Without exposing those twists, I will say this: have you have ever watched a film where something happened that made you say to yourself, ‘Oh no. It’s one of those weird films,’ and then you intellectually switch off until the film is done? Then Sorry to Bother You is not for you. This isn’t an admonishment on that kind of movie-goer. It’s a valid position. But you will probably not enjoy the first half of the movie and you definitely will not enjoy the second.
Those unopposed to ‘weird films’, on the other hand, will probably find something to latch onto in this one. If you are the kind of person for whom a bizarre shift in tone or plot makes you sit up and think, ‘Well what do we have here?’ then Sorry to Bother You is certainly worth your time. Small scenes and individual lines of dialog often contain insightful and interesting perspectives. Although they come and go so fast, replacing one another at such a rapid rate, that it becomes dizzying. A three-minute scene in which Cassius raps to an audience of rich, white party-goers may be genuinely brilliant satire, but it passes so quickly that the film never has a moment to examine it. Instead, it simply presents you with another. And another. And another. And so the cohesiveness of the film is sacrificed to ensure Riley’s clear talent for social commentary receives the maximum exposure.
The lack of cohesiveness is also partly due to the big, third act twist. This is where the film does finally commit to something. But again, without going into too much detail, this may be to its detriment. The twist is surprising because, as with most twists, you believe the film is heading down a certain path and then it’s revealed that it’s heading down a very different path. In this case, I can’t help but feel that all the work the film does towards the third act feels largely useless. This includes the relationships between the (genuinely engaging) characters, which go largely unresolved in service of a rather heavy-handed message that is in no way as interesting as some of the off-hand remarks the film tossed out beforehand. Even the white-voice commentary (which is promoted as the main plot of the film,) is picked up and dropped within the space of forty-five minutes.
Sorry to Bother You is a movie with an inspired vision and a lot to say. Maybe too much. I can’t fault it for its brilliant insights, but I have to for its cluttered nature.
3.5 out of 5 stars