Sorry to Bother You (2018)

***1/2

Though it starts as a typical (yet hilariously sharp) anti-corporate political comedy, Sorry to Bother You morphs into one of the most surprising and fascinating movies I’ve seen in years.

Curated by ’90s “gangsta rapper” Boots Riley (of The Coup fame) in his directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You never loses sight of its rebellious spirit. In an alternate world where a corporation called WorryFree (owned by a rich, white, orgy-throwing entrepreneur who is welcomed onto the set of the Oprah show to peddle his fallacy-filled autobiography with open arms) has managed to legalize and mass-produce indentured servitude, young Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who lives in his uncle’s garage with his artist/activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), manages to land a job as a telemarketer with RegalView, another money-grubbing company that puts its elite “power callers” on a completely different track from its average workers. Describing the pay and workplace disparity as “like comparing apples and holocausts,” Cassius’ marketing mentor Langston (Danny Glover) helps him discover his “white voice” (VO’d by an over-the-top David Cross). And that’s when the money starts to roll in.

Unfortunately for Cassius, this cash flow creates a brutal juxtaposition as Detroit and Cassius’ best friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) have also joined RegalView’s ranks and pressure Cassius into joining their righteous cause to unionize RegalView’s workers and fight for a living wage. When Cassius chooses cash over morality, his income skyrockets almost as fast as his social life craters. And that’s when things get weird. I wouldn’t dare spoil the unexpected direction the story takes, but the deeper Cassius gets into RegalView and its incredibly immoral relationship with WorryFree’s evil empire, the harder it gets for him to keep a grip on his increasingly surrealistic surroundings. Suffice it to say that I was searching the theater floor for my jaw as the credits rolled. In a word, it’s crazy.

On the surface, Sorry to Bother You’s strength is in its casting. Stanfield, who is quietly emerging as a superpower, displays an impressive range throughout the film, selling everything from the mundane reality of over-the-phone sales, to his strained relationship with Detroit with splendid authenticity. Meanwhile, Tessa Thompson is gripping in her role as her character struggles with the realities of Cassius’ failing ethics. And Armie Hammer is dramatically unhinged as the evil emperor atop WorryFree’s tower of inequity. But the film’s true star is Riley and his unabashed rejection of the axioms of filmmaking that his more classically trained peers uphold. His surprising use of exaggerated VOs to contrast RegalView employees’ normal voices from their outrageous “white voices” is only the beginning; by the time the narrative reaches its shocking twist of a climax you realize Sorry to Bother You isn’t the movie you thought you came to see, it’s the avant-garde experience you didn’t know you wanted. It will leave you speechless.

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