Sorry to bother you, one of the standout films of the Sundance film festival, provides a fresh and insightful commentary on a host of issues to do with Western culture.
The film, directed by Boots Riley, is based in Oakland, California in the US. The plot centres around young black telemarketer Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) who discovers he has the power to sell anything using his “white voice” (voiced by David Cross). After harnessing this ability, things start to go his way and he quickly begins to climb the corporate ladder.
He gets a big promotion at the same time his friend Squeeze (Steven Yuen) organises a union to lobby for better payment and treatment for the rest of the telemarketing staff. From then on, Cash fights a difficult battle between his desire for money, success and the self-esteem that comes with it, and staying loyal to his grassroots friends as opposed to “selling out” to the corporate giant.
At the same time, Cash reveals he wants to appear successful to his long-time girlfriend, the artistic and outspoken Detroit (Tessa Thompson). But her affection starts to wane the more successful he becomes.
His dilemma comes to a climax when he meets Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), a drug addict and a CEO, who presents Cash with an incredibly bizarre but lucrative offer that is difficult to refuse.
Boots Riley does an excellent job of bringing the audience along on Cash’s journey. His inner struggle is palpable and, throughout the story, what the “right” thing for him to do is as unclear to him as it is to the audience. On the one hand, he grew up in poverty, has self-esteem issues, and desperately needs money to help his uncle keep his house. On the other hand, he cares about his friends, wants to help them, and hates when they, along with Detroit, start looking at him as a corporate drone.
The movie has a strong artistic touch. but flows often between funny and dark subject matters, which was jarring at times. Riley himself described the film as “an absurdist dark comedy with aspects of magical realism and science fiction inspired by the world of telemarketing.” Some of the topics touched on include race relations, the pros and cons of capitalism, and the ethics and definition of slavery.
The weakness of the film is that while the plot was purposeful and the social commentary rich, there were some things that seemed to serve no purpose. For example, there was a very forced, brief, and barely-talked about affair between Detroit and Squeeze. Why was this part of the film when those two are meant to be likeable characters?
The plot gets progressively messier, and despite its attempt to tie everything together neatly, it actually feels rather clunky and silly. Nonetheless, Sorry to Bother You is still a very enjoyable film, filled with ambition and original ideas while touching upon topics that definitely need further discussion.