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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

When does "It's all bullshit" turn into complacency and complicity? Boots Riley's debut doesn't offer an easy answer, but through the absurd, he reminds people what normal is and that what people do in their lives matters.

Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finds the only job he can get, telemarketing for RegalView, but, naturally he starts with getting hung up on. That is until this black man develops his "white voice" (dubbed by David Cross), starts hitting that quota hard, and the ball starts rolling.

Riley starts off with a fast script that pushes Cash from the cubicle to the private office quickly, but it's a fun ride as calls literally drop Cash and his desk into the homes (and dinner times) of his customers. Riley makes the smart choice of keeping the two parties on the line disconnected. They're not looking at each other, but at their phones, and in Cash's case his call script, just trying to get what they need from each other. A little commerce never hurt anybody.

Except that it could. As Cash moves up and starts getting supervised by a Mr. [Bleep] (Omari Hardwick and white voice dubbed by Patton Oswalt), the means of production are peeled back and reality sets in. It puts Cash and the audience in an understandable position. How long and how hard are people willing to work in an exploitive industry, in an exploitive, unjust world?

Sorry to Bother You will age gracefully, if it ages at all, but it is very much a Post-Trump film that examines what's been accepted over the last two years. For all the fighting on the front-lines people are doing, others are crossing picket lines because being poor is worse than being harassed by rioters. Cash is able to maintain his connection with the audience because of Stanfield's performance and those around him, especially his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). She's a fully fleshed out character, with lines she will cross and lines she won't, and she knows what it takes to stand up for something. She lights up the screen with a great look that reflects needed rebellion in times of modern, compromised-based, millennial hardship.

The costumes in Sorry to Bother You are very distinct, with standout suits, performance art pieces worn by Detroit, an eyepatch, the works. With cinematographer Doug Emmett, Riley speaks volumes through what's just in-frame. He's shouting, but not screaming, the audience picks up what they're comfortable with. For instance, some will notice that sets may have a Get Out vibe. Hallways often feel claustrophobic and there's rarely room for characters to breathe in these places. And when there is room, it's because Cash is in the center of that room, with all eyes gazing, curious about his next move. Others will have something else in mind. Sit back, enjoy it, but please come away with something.

On Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, after the 2016 election, Oliver said "Keep reminding yourself this is not normal," knowing that not everyone would be directly affected by the coming policy changes. Riley is saying the same thing, but bringing it to the neighborhoods because it was only a matter of time until everyone was affected. After the madness passes, will things become and stay normal or will the cycle just restart?

For people feeling frustrated with the world around them, watch Sorry to Bother You. If it stirs up anything more than the laughs it promises, run with that. At least talk about it with someone.

Sorry to Bother You is 4.5/5, a near-masterpiece.
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