SORRY TO BOTHER YOU gets 6.5/10 Satire on fire

Directed by Boots Riley
Starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Danny Glover, Terry Crews


This may not be a stoner movie, in that it doesn’t revolve around weed, but this crazily inventive film does resemble the “dude, what if…?” concepts most popular in stoner crowds (not to say that the mind behind this whacky film had to have been under the influence). This directorial debut from musician Boots Riley does feel like he’s scooped out his brain and all its crazy, zany, whacky ideas onto the cinema canvas, featuring a cynical twist on capitalist society with a handful of bewildering left-turns.

However, it seems Riley is too much of a fan of his own mind and this film suffers from little culling of the ideas that don’t work or aren’t necessary – despite this on-screen onslaught of creativity, Sorry To Bother You can be surprisingly reiterative, making it sometimes tedious, exhausting, and boring.

Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) gets a job as a telemarketer just to bring in some money for himself, his performance artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and his landlord/uncle Sergio (Terry Crews). He starts getting success in sales after he is encouraged by older co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) to utilise his white voice, but an internal conflict arises within him when, amidst a worker’s rebellion, he is given a promotion to what is called “Power Caller”. Now Cassius must wrestle with the financial opportunities of his new job and his obligation to the underpaid employees he used to work beside, all the while stepping in on secrets behind his company, overseen by cult-leader-esque boss Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

There’s a wealth of acerbic satire on display, splattered all across Riley’s world that is quite like our own in a way, but with plenty of cynical surreal flourishes. These satirical jabs may not seem too revolutionary or original, but this film’s portrayal of worker exploitation and the disparity in wages between the working and upper class is nonetheless topical and relevant, on top of being presented in such a humorous and scathing manner. There’s a direct reference to Michel Gondry later in the film, and that director’s constructively creative spirit certainly looms large here.

Unfortunately, Riley overcranks the satire and the jokes, repeatedly pounding already-obvious social analogies over the audience’s head until they’re numb. One example is when Cassius has to freestyle before his boss and his friends, which results in a brilliant gag, though one that repeats itself several times in a row. This is the film’s near deadly contradiction, that it fills itself with so much off-the-wall zaniness, yet overuses its own uniqueness until it nullifies itself.

This is a thoroughly creative piece of work that’s so audaciously and daringly personal, in both the filmmaking and storytelling, yet this comedy film certainly needs to be trimmed back fifteen or so minutes. It’s a hell of a world (and a cheekily relatable one) that’s in this film, though it’s one that needs more nuance and less reiteration to make it work better.