Director: Boots Riley
Writer: Boots Riley
Cinematographer: Doug Emmett
Producer: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, and Forest Whitaker
by Jon Cvack
It’s April and I’m still working my way through the remaining 2018 films. I had first heard of this flick after seeing Blind Spotting and seeing that Sorry to Bother You was another Oakland-based film helmed by another black filmmaker and hiphop icon Boots Riley, a self-described democratic socialist who blended those ideas into a story of magical realism.
It involves a job-seeking Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield; who I’m excited to see a lot more from [I saw this before Uncut Gems (2019)]) who lives in his uncle’s garage and dates an artist Detroit (Tessa Thompson). He soon gets a position at a soul sucking telemarketing company, taking advice from his neighbor (Danny Glover) that if he uses a white man’s voice he could make better sales and make it up to the mysterious and enticing top “Power Caller” floor.
The strategy proves a success, yet while Cash is gaining the attention of middle management, his co-workers are starting to assemble and push for a union. Cash agrees to help until he’s finally provided the Power Caller promotion, making it up to the top floor where he enters into huge sales and begins raking in more money than he’d ever dreamed of; quickly ditching his friends and their attempt to unionize
Meanwhile, there’s another company called Worryfree which exchanges free labor for room and board in order to sell arms, led by CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). Combined with the telemarketers, the two companies fight for workers rights as Cash moves further up the corporate and social ladder, soon invited to a infamous “Steve Lift Party” where Cash is pressured to freestyle in front of hundreds of people before they enter in an endless coke-filled orgy. Steve offers what looks like some coke to Cash who rips a line and then goes to pee where he takes a wrong turn and discovers a minotaur Jim Henson-level practical creature chained to the walls.
By chance his phone records the creatures, leading him to tell the world, but between the vapid entertainment most people want and the labor riots, no one seems to care. By now he’s ditched the few friends he made at the telemarketing company; one of which sleeps with Detroit after her and Cash break up, Detroit is pissed that Cash has abandoned his friends (though, in fairness, he’s known them for about a week before his promotion occurs).
Things come to a boil and the workers fight the police and while I appreciated the Marxist film, it felt as though it didn’t have the resources to fully pull off the world it wanted to create. The issue being that should the film seems to take place in an alternative universe, it presents a world that’s very much similar to our own; far too dependent on animating certain elements while leaving others the same. This is no fault of Boot Riley’s, as given the limitations, he’s able to create a vibrant film that pops off the screen. I would have liked to see how the culture and people of Oakland were struggling with gross unemployment and the choice whether to sell themselves into indentured servitude versus trying to find a low paying job such as a telemarketer. Everything else, from the company to Worryfree to Steve Lift’s universe and the monsters all felt like it took a real concept and amped it up. Perhaps that was the point, but it felt as though two realities were competing with each other rather than blending together.
However, for a first feature, this might be one of the most exciting debuts to come out in years.
BELOW: Interesting explainer on the film
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