★★★★★ - STUFF
- In present day Oakland, California, pretty much nothing is as it seems.
Cassius – Cash – Green and his partner Detroit wake up in what looks like a cramped but OK little apartment. Until the automatic door malfunctions and we realise they are actually living in a garage.
Detroit is an artist and sign twirler (It's a thing). And Cassius has just landed a job as a telemarketer at a company of such surpassing oddness and rapaciousness, that only the truly desperate would ever agree to work there.
Cassius is promised a move up to the "Power Callers" floor if he can flog enough sets of encyclopaedias. To do so, he is strongly advised to curb his own accent and to use a "white voice". Cassius complies, and soon enough proves himself God's own salesman. Wealth and status beckon. But there are dark forces at work behind the scenes.
Writer/Director Boots Riley sets his debut fable Sorry To Bother You in an alternative reality, but one not too far from inner-city America, circa 2018. The homeless and unemployed are offered a bed and a meal to become indentured labour – slaves in all but name – for a company called Worry Free. The most popular show on TV shows contestants being willingly beaten up and humiliated for money and fame.
Riley has fashioned this film as a bleak and bleakly hilarious satire of race and capitalism. There is more going on in the screenplay than I am qualified to unpack.
Sorry To Bother You is an unclassifiable gem of a film, destined to be called "this year's Get Out" by pretty much everyone with a laptop and an opinion. And they won't be unjustified. If not for the huge success of Get Out, then maybe this project would have been too contentious, unique and bold to have ever got the greenlight.
The references to Michel Gondry (Mood Indigo) and Spike Jonze's (Being John Malkovich) palette and framing are explicit, and deftly acknowledged. But I found myself also reminded of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and then – just trust me on this – the stop-motion of Ray Harryhausen, as Riley takes his story into Island of Dr Moreau territory.
In the leads, Lakeith Stanfield (Selma) and Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok) hit every note as the conflicted but much-in-love Cassius and Detroit. Comedian Jermaine Fowler does several good things as Cassius's best friend Salavador, Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) is appallingly convincing as a villainous entrepreneur who apparently still takes Ayn Rand seriously, while veteran actor and activist Danny Glover (The Old Man and the Gun) turns up in a worthwhile and knowing cameo.
Sorry To Bother You (even the title is a sly provocation) is a multi-faceted dervish of a film.
One-part dystopian satire, one-part Faustian-morality tale, but mostly a hard-edged comedy/horror set in a world so absurd, it might just be the truth. Hugely recommended.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF