If you haven’t seen Sorry to Bother You yet, STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, SON.
Break out your Moviepass, Stubbs, Regal Crown Club, Amex, Fandango rewards, or whatever the hell, and just go. Call off work (for the day, because you need time to recoup afterwards) and treat yourself to Boots Riley’s eclectic, electric, intense, odd af creation. We are experiencing a true renaissance in Black film and Sorry to Bother You advances the ball far down the court in this regard, and not just because of its own creativity. Since the film’s opening, one of its lesser-known stars has already sold a script. If we get anything as creative as Sorry to Bother You, we’re already better off.
So, I saw this movie in New York with a friend opening weekend. It has taken me two weeks to complete this review because there is so much to say and none of it was coming out in any coherent fashion every time I sat in front of the computer. Trying to write a review of a film of this nature is like catching fireflies and putting them in a jar: you won’t get them all, and they won’t all light up at the same time.
This film is the definition of absurd realism, but what is more telling about our world in this here 2018 is that the shit Boots came up with is CRAZY, but it’s really not even that damn crazy. We live in some interesting times, where it seems that our life is beginning to imitate our satire more so than the reverse. I got home from the theater and flipped on the TV, which had been left on Fox News…and, well, Sorry to Bother isn’t all that absurd, actually.
So, what is the movie about? The debut of director Boots Riley is a simple story line easily discernible from the trailers: Black guy (Cash played Lakeith Stanfield) gets job telemarketing and starts doing extremely well when he uses his “white voice” to make sales. His journey into the world of success creates distance between he and his artist girlfriend (Detroit played by Tessa Thompson) and his friends. There is a moment, by far the most cringe-worthy and hilarious moment in the film, when Cash decides his soul is for sale with two words: “nigga shit.” The funniness of the scene only highlights how low it is for him…or is it for us?
The trailers don’t necessarily tell you that all of this is happening against the backdrop of a society slowly being consumed by capitalism (this part is not absurd at all), which is manifested in two primary ways: Worry Free Corporation, which offers workers lifetime employment without pay in exchange for housing and food (where have we heard that one before?) and “I Got the Shit Beat Out of Me,” a popular television show with pretty self-explanatory content. Riley makes it clear that the progression of our world into late-stage capitalism is the real story line here.
A friend wrote an on-point critique for the Atlantic that I won’t regurgitate here, but one important point he when he postulates, “[t]o say that Sorry to Bother You tries to tackle too much might even be an understatement; it’s a freewheeling critique ranging from Oakland’s creeping hyper-gentrification to the exploitation of labor to a Get Out–meets–Chappelle’s Show riff on race and tokenism. It’s less a surgical satire of something being wrong than a man on the corner, waving wild-eyed and shouting that everything is.”
I agree and disagree with this point, which has reverberated through many reviews of this film, with some citing the overwhelming number of ideas articulated (or rather, shouted) as distracting while others view it as sub-optimal but not insurmountable. I actually find that the deluge of ideas is the only reason that this film works.
We are inundated in this age of technology, interconnectedness, callousness, and the rise of insular and racist thinking with a steady stream of bullshit happening all around us. Black folks shot in the streets, children in cages, a pussy-grabbing president, poisoned water, dying polar bears, and don’t even get me started on the un-clean air shit for reals….and that is just in America. Who can keep up? Who can care about everything all the time and stay even a little sane? Where is the red-line after which our very lives depend on how much we tune out the noise and care?
A few years ago, President Obama was lambasted when he failed to react to Syria’s leader Assad crossing the “red-line” of using chemical weapons on his own people. Fast forward to 2018, and it seems to me that a red-line is crossed every damn day and what is anyone doing?
Is corporate slavery the red line? Assimilation for survival? Profiting off of human rights violations? Enmeshing violence in our daily lives like the national anthem? Re-writing what it means to be a human? We probably won’t know the farreal, last straw red line until we are hella far over it with nothing but a horse dick [spoiler?] to show for it, but Boots has tried to draw us a map with Sorry to Bother You, and the “You Are Here” stamp is looking dangerously fucking close.