At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Sorry to Bother You “2018”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Surrealist Dark Comedy/Stars: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, Kate Berlant, Forest Whitaker; Voices of: David Cross, Lily James, Patton Oswalt, Rosario Dawson, Ryan Coursey/Runtime: 112 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by letting you in on a little filmmaking secret dear reader namely what exactly is the purpose of satire in the world of movie magic. Simply put dear reader, the purpose behind a slice of cinema utilizing satire is so it can prop up a lens of sorts in the world around us and show off the various idiosyncrasies in it whilst also ratcheting those things up significantly in the name of “entertainment value”. If this sounds fairly easy to accomplish well you might be surprised to learn that’s not entirely accurate. That’s because more often than not satire can be quite the intriguing challenge for a filmmaker since you if make things too blunt it can push people away, but if you make it too mellow then it doesn’t have the necessary hook in order to lure that very crowd in the first place. The reason I bring this up is because the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, 2018’s Sorry to Bother You, is one that is triumphant in pulling off satire brilliantly. Indeed it may be a sly film that almost certainly will make you want to see it more than once, but Sorry to Bother You is a delightfully biting entry in the comedy genre that throws in everything but the kitchen sink even if it only required 75% of that to get across the message it is trying to convey. Most crucially of all, this slice of cinema is a phenomenally made and acted film that pleads with you to try to figure out and/or discuss just what it is trying to convey about our reality which seems to be getting stranger and stranger as time goes on. Suffice it to say that this is one slice of cinema that by the moment you see the title show up in the credits you feel like you are being challenged to figure out whether this film is genuinely apologetic or just being wonderfully condescending. Either way, get ready for one of the wildest slices of cinema you’ve ever seen in easily the last ten years.

The plot is as follows: Taking place in a similar yet alternate version of Oakland, California, this slice of cinema gets underway as we are introduced to our main hero, a young man by the name of Cassius (or Cash for short) Green as he in the midst of failing miserably to impress at a job interview for a position in telemarketing. Yet despite looking like this is one job prospect that’s about to go up in flames for our hero, we see that he is still hired because all you really need to be a telemarketer is to speak and be alive (so I’m guessing a mute zombie might not get the gig). Jokes aside, we see that this is a true blessing for our hero since he really needs to make some headway in the backlog of rent that he owes his uncle with whom he and his artist girlfriend Detroit have been living with. Thus we see that when he isn’t at work bugging people and blundering through the script the company wants him to use, we see our boy wonder spend time with girlfriend and friends and aspire to true greatness within the company. Namely by getting the call to go upstairs and become what the company refers to as a “Power Caller”. Yet just when things look bad for our hero in the workplace we see his wiser and older co-worker Langston, feeling bad for the newbie, decide to give him the tip to tap into what he calls “his white voice” in order to find success with the company. Yet despite initially blowing his co-worker off, we see Cash decide to eventually give it a try and, much to his surprise, his voice sounds an awful lot like….well a white guy for all intents and purposes (and also because the voice that comes out is that of comedian David Cross). Yes I know how odd this sounds, but just go with it. At any rate, it isn’t long before this highly successful trick of the trade see our hero not only start bringing in sales like nobody’s business, but also be invited to become a Power Caller. Yet whilst such career advancement is most definitely praise-worthy, there is a group that is uncomfortable with the whole thing. Namely Cash’s work place chums. This is because as Cash has been doing his thing, a lot of his work buddies have been forming a union (something the main company behind their office is more than irked by) and they really would like Cash to support a strike they plan to embark on. However this is easier said than done to obtain since all of his success hasn’t just helped Cash climb out of the old debt pit. Rather, it has also enabled to not only get new clothes and car to say nothing of an apartment of his very own, but it’s also managed to get him the attention of said parent company’s brilliant and seemingly affable enough CEO Steve Lift. Of course all good things usually have a price tag on them so it shouldn’t come as no surprise to learn that it isn’t long before our hero learns just what his newfound success is going to cost him. The real question dear reader is if it’s a price he is willing to pay and that is something that you will have to discover for yourself….

Now right off the bat, it should be said that the satire found in this slice of cinema really did remind me a fair bit of the kind found in a 2006 gem known as Idiocracy. For example in Idiocracy there’s a show in that film’s world where people get hit in a certain area for comedy, and in this one there is a show where people are literally beat up on television thus saying quite a bit about our morbid fascination with seeing other people’s misery aired for audiences worldwide. At the same time, it should also be pointed out that the approach to this film also reminds me of the ones shown in a movie Spike Lee helmed known as Bamboozled even if this slice of cinema is not likely to be nearly as controversial as that one. Yet much like that film had people wearing blackface, we see this one showcase people wearing afro wigs after our hero becomes a YouTube icon for reasons I shan’t spoil here or our hero literally deliver a rap before a virtually all white group at a party that is nothing more than the N-word being repeated over and over. Yet it’s when the ecstatic crowd starts repeating it back to him that we see this film is trying to tell us that a commercial depiction of racism always has the possibility of making its way into reality. We also see that this film’s helmer and Spike Lee also have a distinct way of handling the commentary they are trying to make courtesy of inserting very unappealing components into their narratives which then proceed to go down certain paths that you never would guess simply by watching the trailer. Yet whereas Lee’s slice of cinema distinctly occurred in the real world and his characters had genuine pathos and lives, this film’s helmer takes the seemingly ordinary job of telemarketing and utilizes it more as a launch pad for a film that is infinitely weirder and even flirts with the realm of sci-fi to a degree. In terms of other components behind the camera that worked, it shouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with this director’s career as a rapper that the soundtrack he has managed to assemble here is downright magnetic with a lot of scenes in this often brilliantly tied together with music that is by equal measure groovy and powerful. It should also be said that this film’s crew do a brilliant job at utilizing visual comedy to the fullest extent in this with particular regard to the place where our hero is employed. Indeed much in a similar vein to a film like (and I know this is a weird comparison) the second Gremlins film, this one manages to literally make each floor in this building feel like its own little universe in a sense. Yet no matter if what we are seeing is overtly funny or if it’s more intricately linked to some of the thematic concepts at work in this film like how a wound our main character acquires doesn’t seem to heal the longer he pushes his integrity to the curb, there is no denying that this film’s helmer isn’t just regaling us with a message, but rather that perhaps he is a film helmer we should definitely start paying a lot more attention to.

Now as the lead in this slice of cinema, I feel that Lakeith Stanfield was given quite the responsibility in being our guide through this insanity. Fortunately, Stanfield is an absolutely fantastic actor who I have always enjoyed seeing pop up in movies and when he is given the chance to be the lead he makes it work 110%. Indeed his delightfully ever-growing amount of disbelief at all the stuff going on does give this slice of cinema some desired consistency to balance up against all the weird stuff going on. Suffice it to say that Stanfield does a beautiful job at being a personal component in a movie that is fairly eager both subtly and not so subtly to completely and totally omit any sort of humanity whatsoever to the proceedings. We also see that this slice of cinema makes the wonderful choice to back Stanfield up with an absolutely stacked with talent supporting cast and each and every one of them does a fantastic job with the material that they are given. Indeed in the role of Cash’s devoted girlfriend Detroit, we see that Tessa Thompson manages to bring both a passion and fearlessness to the part that is absolutely vital while also in a weird yet lovely way really speaking to our hero as if she is his conscience as well as his significant other and the two of them actually have pretty darn good chemistry together. Yet while the supporting efforts by such screen dignitaries as Steven Yeun (in a role that seems like a complete 180 from Glen on Walking Dead), Jermaine Fowler, and the always delightful Danny Glover (who has a line in this that will make Lethal Weapon fans smile) and Terry Crews respectively do a great job at further developing this loopy world, there is one that stands out above the rest. That would be the work done in this by Armie Hammer as Steve Lift. Now I know that Hammer is not exactly someone who a lot of people are rushing to work with for reasons you can find and read on your own time. With that said though, he may only have 30-35 minutes of screen time tops in this, but Hammer just does such a good job as this clearly nefarious, beard-twirling CEO that you can’t help, but find yourself enjoying every minute he’s on screen just because of how much fun he seems to be having with this particular part.

All in all and at the end of the day, the 2018 slice of cinema that is Sorry to Bother You is the very type of wildly exciting to say nothing of riling up and downright intelligent debut film that only shows up on my cinematic radar when a truly gifted and remarkable film helming talent has arrived in the land of movie magic. Indeed this rivetingly over-the-top yet passionately bonkers parable may be focused mostly on poking fun at the idea of “modern capitalism”, but is also filled to the gills with more than enough jabs towards other maladies affecting the world around us today as well. Suffice it to say that it is no secret therefore that this debut slice of cinema for Boots Riley is a far crazier cinematic voyage than the vast majority of others from the year it was released and will also most definitely leave you floored as to the various avenues that it chooses to take you down. In the eyes of this reviewer however, the fact that there is a slice of cinema willing to be those things is a wonderful thing since, truth be told, not a lot of helmers are really aspiring to make films like this one. As such, this one showing up at a wonderful time when a lot of African American entertainment endeavors from the phenomenal show Atlanta on FX to movies like Get Out and Black Panther from 2017 and 2018 respectively were, and still are, getting love from the majority of audiences and critics alike is something that I also find to be absolutely terrific. That is because, for all the unique avenues each one of these projects chooses to traverse in getting its various messages across, they all in their own ways and as a group make for beautiful places for much-needed conversation starters to emerge. Not only that, but they also give audiences who might not otherwise have had their voices heard in cinema before a valuable opportunity to present the various realities they know to the world on one of the most valuable stages in our planet’s collection. Thus movies like Sorry to Bother You aren’t just catalysts for a cultural evolution in cinema. Rather, they are also films that can (if we let them) help us grow as people in a variety of ways that as long as we promote them and respect them for what they are and what they bring to the table will continue to be seen for the gems they are. Suffice it to say that yes Sorry to Bother You is a truly wonderful gonzo cinematic mix of terrific work on both sides of the camera, insightful commentary about the state of affairs in the world around us, and dark comedy that consistently will ring true. At the same time it is also so much more than that. As for what else it is I think it best for you to discover for yourself. After all sometimes the best things aren’t the ones we expect, but rather it’s the ones we don’t. A category that I can safely say that Sorry to Bother You most assuredly fits to a t. On a scale of 1-5 I give Sorry to Bother You “2018” a solid 4 out of 5.

 

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