Photos | Annapurna Pictures / Disney
From left: Boots Riley’s directorial debut “Sorry to Bother You” tells the story of telemarketer Cassius Green, who discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a universe of greed. In “Mary Poppins Returns,” decades after her original visit the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.
A bracing, brilliant alternative to holiday cheer can be found in the insane and hilarious “Sorry to Bother You,” a scathing science fiction comedy with a stiff dose of social commentary. It somehow manages to be terrifying and challenging yet ebullient at the same time, and the near-future dystopia it audaciously depicts is all too recognizable. Stars Lakeith Stanfield and and Tessa Thompson are electrifying.
No matter how weird the film gets, the concept is completely sealed by the sheer charm of its cast, especially Thompson as the ultimate smiling assassin, an effervescent but brutal performance artist named Detroit. Stanfield stars as her boyfriend Cassius “Cash” Green, struggling to make ends meet as a telemarketer.
His workplace rates with the 7½ floor from “Being John Malkovich” in the annals of onscreen office hell. Cash has trouble making a sale until coworker Danny Glover advises him to use his “white voice.” From then on, Stanfield’s “white voice” is portrayed by David Cross, and his office stock skyrockets.
“Sorry to Bother You” spends half the film skewering capitalism and the horrors and indignities of working in an office, with its vile managers, human resources acronyms and draconian caste systems. In this case, a special elevator with a comically long access code whisks “Power Callers” to their own special floor. Once Cash makes it to Power Caller status, his life and the film take a gonzo turn to science fiction, as he learns the secrets of the labor corporation WorryFree, where Armie Hammer makes billions on modern slave labor.
The delightful and assured cast lead the story with complete control through its craziest moments, and this dystopian madness is utterly believable in their capable hands. Steven Yeun (“The Walking Dead”) is excellent as a labor organizer trying to help unionize the telemarketers. The easy camaraderie among the resistance feels very real. Their commitment to this story pops in every scene.
The directorial debut of musician and activist Boots Riley, this overtly political film is the opposite of boring or preachy. It’s thrilling and insane and more artistically realized than another recent film that merged a popular genre with a political presence, “Get Out.” Both films dealt with the commodification of African-American bodies in shocking and memorable ways; this one just also happens to be hilarious.
“Sorry to Bother You” probably will bother you, and it won’t be the least bit sorry about it, because it is also so vivacious and, despite some physical yuckiness, oddly charming. Somewhere in all the social satire, hallucinogenic action and funk anthem soundtrack, I have managed to fall deeply in love with both Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. Even while bleeding from the head, or maybe especially then, Stanfield is stunningly watchable and deeply relatable, even when he finds himself in some situations we will likely never encounter. Unless we do.
“Sorry to Bother You” is currently available to rent.