It’s been quite a year for black cinema. In March 2018, Jordan Peele won an Oscar for the screenplay for “Get Out” (which was also nominated in the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor categories). A few weeks before that Ryan Coogler’s groundbreaking Marvel Studios feature “Black Panther” opened to rave reviews and boffo box office.
“Sorry to Bother You” (Annapurna), written and directed by filmmaker and rapper Boots Riley, now joins that distinguished league. Funny, freaky, confrontational, timely and very necessary, “Sorry to Bother You” takes its title in a variety of fascinating directions.
In the midst of an existential crisis, Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) is in desperate need of a job and a better place to live in Oakland. He resides in his uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage. Not only does the door fly open at inopportune times – while he’s making love to artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), for example – but he’s months behind on the rent. Cassius is both sorry and not sorry for being a bother to his uncle.
After being caught faking his way through a job interview with Anderson (Robert Longstreet) at Regal View Telemarketing, he’s surprised to discover that he’s been hired. The phrase “sorry to bother you” also plays into his work as a struggling telemarketer. With each call he makes, he literally drops into the homes of the people he’s bothering, never making a single sale.
All that changes when, on the advice of co-worker Langston (Danny Glover), he utilizes his white voice (provided by David Cross). As soon as does, his sales skyrocket. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his other co-workers who begin to organize a union under the guidance of Squeeze (Steven Yeun) and Cassius’s friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler). Cassius initially take part in the protest, along with Detroit who is also now working at Regal View. Detroit, whose handcrafted earrings often make a political statement, is a member of the Left Eye activist group which is leading actions against the terrifying Worry Free corporation suspected of human trafficking and other equally horrifying abuses.
As Cassius goes from always being on the outside – working on the lower level at Regal View (which obviously has no view) and being clueless about the VIP room of his favorite club – to his new role as a Power Seller at the company, he is alternately horrified by what he sees taking place and enjoying his newfound place in the culture.
The glow and thrill of his newfound success begins to fade quickly, however. Detroit can no longer be in a relationship with Cassius because he represents everything against which she is fighting. The turning point occurs when Cassius is invited to a party by his supervisor Mr. _______ (Omari Hardwick), whose name is always bleeped out, at the home of author and Worry Free founder Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). While there he discovers a shocking secret, which turns out to be the ultimate eye-opener for Cassius.
Borrowing liberally from Michel Gondry (while also paying homage to the French filmmaker) and Spike Jonze, Riley has created the single most tripped-out movie of the year. About 20 minutes too long, “Sorry to Bother You” is not sorry to bother us. Instead, it’s intended to disrupt. Incorporating various comedic and surreal techniques as a bizarre means of reminding us about the importance of being woke.