This film was recommended to me hesitantly by a friend whose only preliminary comment to my viewing was, ‘it’s a weird one’. She wasn’t wrong and I’m grateful she gave me no more and no less.
It is a weird one, a weird trip into the extremes of the reality that exists, not even secretively anymore, but out in the open. A reality of exploitative labour. People will either revolt and protest, or silently accept their fate as inevitable.
I especially feel the latter is the case with millennials – the age group I belong to. Economic frameworks have altered drastically since my parents generation, who for the majority, experienced having a mortgage and a specialized career by their mid-20s. I got a cat in my mid-20s and I feel this was a peak adult achievement.
So this 2018 sci-fi, anti-capitalist, revolutionary and cautionary tale; Sorry to Bother You
focuses on Cassius Green, a ‘young professional’ struggling to make ends meat. Living in his Uncle’s garage with his girlfriend – Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson, driving a ‘bucket’ as he refers to the car his uncle gifted him – he finds himself a telemarketing a job at RegalView. At first, he has trouble grabbing the attention of potential customers over the phone until co-worker Langston, played by Danny Glover, advises him to use his ‘white voice’ (dubbed by David Cross and Patton Oswalt)
When Cassius masters this, he’s unstoppable. He shoots, he scores and at the peak of his co-workers revolt against the company for it’s economic ethics, Cassius gets promoted to a ‘power-caller’ which takes him a floor up. [It’s not heaven, but almost…] which is a satirical take on the ‘glass ceiling’.
The film takes so many twists and turns that you have to really think before you attempt to describe it. It’s not like, ‘oh it’s a comedy, a sci-fi, a political satire… it’s all of those things and more.
I really enjoy films that are self-aware of their chaos. Take for instance the character Mr. (blank) who is Cassius’ mentor. The script doesn’t just neglect to give him a name, it withstands this information from the viewer by bleeping his name every time he says it. I really like Riley’s humour here, as at one point Cassius calls him Mr. (blank), he responds, ‘don’t call me Mr. (blank), call me…(blank). The emphasis here is both frustrating and hilarious. This disparity of emotional coding is used throughout the film, which is why it may seem the film was longer than 1 hour 52 minutes.
LaLeith Stanfield’s performance as Cassius Green (hilarious pun by the way) is just so effortless and effective. He’s somewhat of a tormented character who’s motivations are skewed to the point where it’s unclear to the viewer and himself what is driving him to climb the career ladder.
There is the baseline motivation, to get the money needed for his Uncle Sergio, played by Terry Crews, whose garage he lives in, before it’s evicted. But then, is it also to appear more interesting to artsy girlfriend; Detroit.
The irony is that Uncle Sergio at some point considers Worry Free, the corporation advertised throughout the film which is essentially voluntary slavery. It’s a satirical stance on the work environments that overly-promote productive and compassionate working standards. There is a catch though…isn’t there always?
The magical realism aspect to the film is what elevates it from a subtle political and social critique into a hyper-realized document. The aesthetic of this (blank) character also brings to mind the Steampunk genre which fuses technology, industrialism and design with no bounding exclusivity to the past or future.
Having this character be nameless emphasizes the lack of distinction between reality and identity.
His character works mostly to guide Cassius into the realm of blind agreement with wrong.
The analysis of class and experience really places this film in the current socio-political climate. Although it took six months to write the film and another six years to get the film made, it’s painfully accurate in its conception of ‘survival’ rather than ‘thriving’ in life. We can see how different individuals cope with their reality. Detroit is an activist by nature, it’s very inherent in her to fight for what is right but she is also a refreshingly secure and genuine soul who really emanates a feeling of presence and consciousness. Although we might feel bouts of sympathy for Cassius, as he’s living in a tiny garage and driving a crappy car, it’s conflicted sympathy. For he isn’t homeless and he’s mobile. The millennial generation is plagued with this ache of needing more and more materialism to satisfy our existences.
The corporation Worry Free in the film is a hyperbolic relief to the strains of societal expectations. Somedays, we might catch ourselves wishing we could never work a day in our lives again, or curse our current employers for not paying us enough, or carry ourselves with a depleted demeanor due to not having achieved what we wanted to in life and wonder what the easy solution is to a care(worry) free existence. Giving it up, to a corporation who essentially does your living for you, buys your food, organizes cooking, cleaning, social activities, projects, so on and so forth.
This film is a cautionary tale, I’ve decided while writing this. I’ve found myself appreciating what I have more since watching the film. I know, I’m such a millennial to need a feature film to help me feel gratitude.
The character Detroit is an activist by nature. It’s very inherent in her to fight for what is right but she is also a refreshingly secure and genuine soul, who really emanates a feeling of presence, consciousness and contentment.
She has more passion for life for Cassius, which he in insecure about, but the film roots for them and so do I.
She’s a welcome energy in a largely male cast.
There is so much running around my head about this film that I might need another watch, or two, to even begin to understand and appreciate fully the pure brilliance of this genre-blending Boots Riley picture.
The title is ironic in that, it’s playing on the ploy that telemarketing sales people use in their opening lines. They want to appear as though they are apologetic for the inconvenience, when really, they’re planning on inconveniencing you far beyond your understanding. And that’s kind of what the film does, in regards to opening with a neutral storyline of a struggling young professional with a quirky girlfriend seeking for a get rich quick type thing to get out of a jam…and then…BOOM, all sorts of crazy s**t goes down. The film is sorry to bother you, but it’s going to bother you by shoving the hidden truth in your face. You may focus on the white voice, but this is only a tool used to emphasize the bigger picture. It’s mentioned early on that even white people have a white voice. ‘White’ is code for ‘privilege’s’ ‘comfort’, ‘stable’.
I’m certain about checking out more contributions by Boots Riley, This film has really intrigued and challenged the way I watch and read films.
It’s available to watch on Amazon Prime – give it a watch!