For those, like me, who were unfamiliar with what they were getting themselves into with “Sorry to Bother You”, the movie is straight up crazy. Upon reflection, many of the themes and individual scenes are highly memorable. Whether they all work together as a coherent whole is another question.
Written and directed by Boots Riley, the film tells the story of Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a telemarketer who uses his “white voice” to ascend the ranks and become a “power caller.” His girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), is an expressive artist who specializes in the abstract. His best friend, Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), is a slacker. He befriends Squeeze (Steven Yeun) who tries to recruit him into a union against the upper powers, run by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who is not as he seems. As Cassius gets deeper and deeper into power, the revelations become more and more shocking.
The film careens from racial comedy to activist drama to experimental art house film to office farce. With each twist of the plot, the movie changes course and when you finally feel as if you’ve gotten a handle on the plot and where it’s going, you’re thrown for a massive loop. It’s a dizzying and original presentation that’s sure to leave an impression.
The film though, is hard to grasp with the plot changes. Granted, this is by design and with additional viewings, perhaps it is easier to digest. Already, 24 hours after viewing, the story is clearer in my mind than when I walked out of the theater. But it all seems like too much, too fast. It almost feels like four or five different films thrown in one. In a way, it’s nice to see something different that completely throws you for a loop. In another way, it’s disorienting and the plot twists lose the film’s emotional power on the audience.
How “Sorry to Bother You” will be remembered is a question going forward. It feels like a cult film aching to reach cult status. Will it get there? Will it be successful in the mainstream? Only time with tell. And given four or five months or four or five years, my own opinion of the film may grow better or worse. That’s the mark of someone trying something different. Kuddos to Boots Riley for that.