Saturday, July 14, 2018

Sorry To Bother You But Sorry to Bother You Is Excellent

It's always a treat to watch a movie that feels so much like it's own one-of-a-kind creation, a movie that wears its own unique personality as proudly as one might do showing off an Olympic gold medal. Sorry To Bother You is one such movie, with Boots Riley, previously known for his vocal work in bands like The Coup, making his debut as a director here on this satirical dark comedy to remarkable results. Riley's exceptional work as a writer and a director here echoes numerous past great satirists, most notably cinematic satirists like John Carpenter and Paul Verhoeven, in how he uses the most absurd off-the-wall storytelling details to prop up thoughtful explorations of weighty social issues.

The kind of issues Sorry to Bother You is interested in exploring are the sort of topics that Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) would likely ponder endlessly, much to his girlfriend Detroit's (Tessa Thompson) amusement. The two of them are happy together, but Cassius is in dire straits as he worries about not being important enough to leave a last impact on the world and he's also gotta find money to pay off four months worth of rent. At least the latter problem gets solved by way of Cassius working as a telemarketer for RegalView, though he finds himself struggling to get any customers until he's given a tip: use a white voice when you're talking on the phone to customers.

Suddenly, Cassius has become a master at using his white voice (which is provided by David Cross) to get ahead at his job, though a potential promotion puts him in conflict with his co-worker's desire to go on strike and demand better wages. Wherever you think the plot of this movie is going from here, trust me, you can't even imagine the nuttiness that awaits you when watching this story unfold. The unpredictability of Sorry to Bother You is heavily informed by Boots Riley's stylized visual sensibilities which come up with all kinds of creative ways to present various elements of the film like the internal woes Cassius is grappling with or the phone conversations Cassius has with potential clients as a telemarketer.

The latter detail is presented in a unique and amusing manner by way of literally plopping Cassius into the homes of people he's calling up. If the guy Cassius is calling is at the dinner table, Cassius will be seen sitting just a few feet away at that same dinner table trying to clinch a sell. This detail gets introduced early on and sets the stage for what a visually creative project Sorry to Bother You is. The costumes of the various characters, for instance, created by Markus Fokken, are beautifully realized, I especially love how this movie does not shy away from giving characters, like an unnamed manager played by Omari Hardwick (who gets dressed up in, among other items, an eyepatch) grandiose pieces of wardrobe that manage to say so much about the individual characters of the story. Detroit might have the best costumes of any character in the entire movie though, her various pieces of attire, especially her various empowering earrings, feel like future Halloween costume staples in the making.

Sorry to Bother You confronts its assortment weighty themes with as much gusto as it does in embracing an excellently extravagant visual style. Most prominently, Boots Riley's screenplay fascinatingly explores the way American society tends to strip away identity from non-white members of its society in ways both big and small. For instance, once Cassius gets that big promotion of his, Hardwick's manager character explicitly tells him to speak only in a white voice in his new work environment, just one of many ways that Cassius finds his own identity being compromised in favor of what his company (ruled over by white people) defines as "success". Perhaps the best way this concept gets demonstrated in the film is in a haunting sequence depicting Cassius rapping for the amusement of white partygoers (including Armie Hammer as a sadistic billionaire) who see him as just a whole bunch of stereotypes and not as the complex human being he really is.

It is here that we see how Cassius ascending to such high levels of success at his job come by way of him feeding into the shallow ideas of what his white superiors think all black people are like. He follows his companies mantra, "Stick To The Script", to a tee in terms of just adhering to their racist preconceptions, all in the hopes of obtaining further job advancement that may bring Cassius that self-fulfillment he's always longed for. But can such self-fulfillment be truly satisfied when the price is not being seen as a human being and why does American society far too often force people of color to choose between success as determined by wealthy white members of society and any sense of individual identity? A subplot of Cassius becoming an inadvertent viral sensation after being hit in the head with a can of Coke serves as an extension of this theme of the humanity of Cassius being stripped away as millions of people begin to simply refer to him as a guy who got bonked on the noggin with a can of soda. The way humanity gets stripped away from Cassius over the course of this story is absolutely fascinating to watch, especially since Riley proves to be so good at making recognizably realistic depictions of both casual and abrasive forms of racism crop up in even the most stylized sequences of Sorry to Bother You.

The exploration of this idea of identity being sacrificed for possible future success becomes even more heartbreaking to watch due to how the two lead performances of Sorry to Bother You manage to cement both Cassius and Detroit as thoroughly fascinating human beings. Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson further cement their statuses as being among the most exciting performers working today with their work here, with Thompson especially excelling in selling Detroit's fiery rebellious nature. In the lead role of the whole motion picture, Stanfield provides similarly sublime work in portraying Cassius, particularly in the physical qualities of the role such as how Stanfield masterfully makes his characters ever evolving posture a subtle signifier of how confident or how worried the character is at any given moment.

Supporting roles in the film get filled out with a murderer's row of great actors that ensure that even the smallest role gets filled out with a memorable performance, with stand-out's among supporting players easily being a highly believable and charming turn from Steven Yeun as an out-of-towner looking to organize a strike at RegalView and Armie Hammer as a coked-up asshole who sells the characters threatening presence and moments of dark humor beautifully.  Sorry to Bother You has all kinds of performances, visual details, and thematic explorations that stand out as truly special, a word that really stands out in my mind when thinking about this movie as a whole. There's really nothing else quite like Sorry to Bother You, a knock-out directorial debut for Boots Riley that you won't be sorry for seeing. Just be prepared for how unhinged this thing gets, because, holy cow, it really does just go bananas by the time the third act kicks off.

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