Sorry to Bother You
dir-scr Boots Riley
prd Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Charles D King, George Rush, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams
with Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Omari Hardwick, Jermaine Fowler, Steven Yeun, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Kate Berlant, Michael X Sommers, Robert Longstreet, Forest Whitaker
release US 6.Jul.18, UK 7.Dec.18
18/US Annapurna 1h51
Sorry to Bother You
Am I bothered? Thompson and Stanfield

hammer hardwick yeun
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Sorry to Bother You There's a loose, surreal nuttiness to this film, which mixes topical drama and edgy comedy to create something bracingly original. It starts out as an office satire, but shifts gears along the way as writer-director Boots Riley plays with fantastical imagery and thematic parody. Sometimes, the pastiche becomes a little too insane for its own good, and where the story goes is deliberately confrontational.

In Oakland, Cassius (Stanfield) lives with his artist-activist girlfriend Detroit (Thompson) in his uncle's (Crews) garage. As he starts a new telemarketing job, colleague Langston (Glover) coaches him to use his "white voice", which leads to a big promotion. His new client is WorryFree, in which party-man founder Steve (Hammer) claims to have invented a new form of slavery to boost profits. Then at one of Steve's wild parties, Cassius makes an unnerving discovery about the true nature of WorryFree's business.

Riley playfully deploys Gondry-like in-camera effects that are both eye-catching and thematically pungent. The title has a double-whammy meaning, springing from the invasive nature of cold calls and shifting into the way filmmakers challenge audiences with ideas they don't expect. On the other hand, where the film goes is such a free-wheeling mess that it's not easy to engage with. It's still riveting because its originality is impossible to predict, and also because of the topical stew Riley creates.

All of the performances are fairly broad, matching the film's high-energy approach. At the centre, Stanfield is a likeable everyguy, easy to identify with as he falls into this increasingly crazy rabbit hole. Even when things get seriously wacky indeed, he somehow manages to keep Cassius grounded. The other roles are much smaller, and not nearly as complex, with characters who become somewhat cartoonish along the way. Even so, Thompson has terrific presence, and Hammer goes for broke as the unhinged Steve.

Riley's main target is capitalism itself, the way the quest for money eats away the soul. Intriguingly, he approaches this from an askance angle that takes in issues of race and economic status. Some of the running gags carry on far too long, and many of the story's turns are way over the top. But movies this original don't come along very often, especially ones that are this good at pushing buttons, forcing the audience to think about some very big issues even as they laugh at how bonkers it is.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 20.Oct.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall