Sorry to Bother You is a strange, surreal, hilarious satire guided by the intentionally unsteady hand of rapper-activist turned debut director, Boots Riley.
It dabbles in commentary on media, society, race and working-class issues-so many poignant messages, some more successfully delivered than others. The fearless absurdism will likely distract some viewers from a couple of these messages, but I'm okay with that. I take this wonderful creation much more for its entertainment value than anything else.
The messages that do resonate should come through clearly. Riley's story doesn't shroud itself in murky metaphors. It tells us exactly how to interpret the bizarre world he has created.
Rising star LaKeith Stanfield plays Cassius 'Cash' Green, a deep-thinker who lives in his uncle's garage with his artistic girlfriend named Detroit (the invaluable Tessa Thompson). It comes as no surprise that a man who goes by Boots would opt to give his characters unusual names. These two are just the beginning.
To collect enough scratch to keep up with his rent and put gas in the rusty bucket he drives, he takes a job as a telemarketer. When a wise elder advises him to use "white voice" to improve his sales, Cash starts to rake in the green.
After he rises the ranks of the telemarketing world, ascending to the divine status of power caller, he attracts the attention of an eccentric, drug-fueled CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). His company, WorryFree (a place where employees feel anything but) hides a dark new idea. But when the secret leaks to the public, his stock unexpectedly skyrockets, and Lift is declared a pioneering genius.
The rational-minded public undoubtedly opposed Lift's plan, but big business carried on. As union organizer Squeeze (Steve Yuen) explains to Cassius, "if you show people a problem, but they don't know what to do about it, they just learn to get used to it."
If you think you have any of this plot figured out, think again. It makes a radical left turn in the third act that will tempt some viewers to jump ship. My advice: stay on board. Even if you don't want to totally buy in, just hang around to see where this new direction leads.
The film flies along with such easy energy early, then hits turbulence when trying to figure out how to end this thing. Riley introduces so much psychedelic madness that by the end it's nearly impossible to wrap up the story. But at some point, one must come down from every trip.
Even with as jarringly fantastical as it is, in many ways this movie also feels incredibly real. As Riley puts it, he strives to "break down reality to help us better understand it." Mission accomplished.