MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Boots Riley. Starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson.
Satire is risky, because there is a fine line between outrage and offense. Dystopian films are risky, because there is a fine line between despair and prophetic vision. Alternative universe films are risky, because there is a fine line between imaginative world building and confusing your audience.
Sorry to Bother You is a risky film that is willing to erase all of those lines in order to become its own unique hybrid.
I went into the film knowing that the plot would involve a black telemarketer who learns how to code switch and “talk white” in order to secure more online sales. While this is clearly in the movie, I had no idea what a small part of the storyline it actually was.
Sorry to Borrow You follows the adventures of Cassius “Cash” Green (Stanfield), living from paycheck to paycheck in his Uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) house with his hope-filled girlfriend Detroit (Thompson). Cash worries about the emptiness of his life and dreams about doing something important.
Opportunity knocks when Cash get a job with RegalView, a telemarketing company. As a member of their sales force, he is trained to sell people books that they don’t need and promised an opportunity to be promoted to a level of distinction when he can ride in the golden elevator and join the ranks of the super salesmen and work alongside of CEO and self-proclaimed visionary Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).
As Cash is beginning to work the system and separate himself from the minions on the lower level, he meets Squeeze (Steven Yeun), a fellow worker who is organizing a labor strike. Now Cash has to decide whether to sell his soul to get to the top or to fight the power that keeps so many working low-level jobs.
And still – that’s just a part of the story.
First time writer-director Boots Riley (who is a successful rapper with his group The Coup) has made a movie that could have easily come out in the early 70’s (and very evocative of Robert Downey Sr.’s 1969 satire of advertising Putney Swope) but carries with it the cynicism of the media that followed Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet’s 1978 Network. The movie also occasionally reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil and Jonathan Swift’s satirical fiction.
Sorry to Bother You is a sloppy and scattershot movie in many ways and its uneven production values (due, I am sure, to a limited budget) can be occasionally frustrating, but the commitment of the entire cast to this project elicits laughter and shocks in equal measure during its 105-minute rollercoaster ride. This is one of the best films that I’ve seen this year, but if you are not up to counterculture independent films in general, this is not the movie that’s going to win you over.
Three halos: A crazy and unsettling satire that serves as a sobering commentary about society’s willing complicity to sin.
Five pitchforks: Profanity; violence; scatology; sexual activity; nudity; drug and alcohol abuse.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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