By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Filmmakers Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry have definitely made their indelible marks in absurd, surreal fantasy, but now with his amazing feature film debut, Boots Riley can proudly join this list of contemporary mad geniuses. Sorry to Bother You is a bizarre and hilarious comedy guaranteed to make Riley’s predecessors proud, and will definitely please fans of these types of films. Riley’s wild and insane movie has some intelligent social messages amidst the craziness. It is a movie that had me laughing heartily and plentifully and one that is sure to receive nominations for its imaginative writing. So far, I consider it the best comedy I have seen this year.
Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) stars as Cassius “Cash” Green, a perpetually down on his luck African-American man who struggles to maintain gainful employment and is way behind on his rent for his garage apartment. His life is about to change, though. Cash’s buddy Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) manages to get him an interview for a seemingly mundane telemarketing job. After getting hired, Cash initially struggles to make any sales. However, after his co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) advises him to find his non-threatening “white voice,” things begin to look better for the shy and tentative man. After a few successes boost his confidence, Cash eventually becomes the most successful sales person in his department. Cash’s success changes him drastically, as ambition and greed cloud his better judgement and rob him of his moral compass. This troubles Cash’s activist artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), along with his other friends and co-workers. Success may have saved Cash financially, but it also has the potential of turning him into a sell-out monster.
Written and directed by Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You is an ingenious satire that pulls no punches and fearlessly takes some bizarre risks. The level of insanity might be too much for some viewers, but I feel that for every mad gag, there is some solid social commentary behind it. Riley’s movie takes on telemarketing, labor rights, race relations, cultural identity, and the ugly greed that can come from capitalism. It all sounds dark, heavy and perhaps, bloated, but Riley does an amazing job as both writer and director. It is certainly an ambitious film that succeeds on so many levels.
In addition to the superb writing and direction, the film can boast excellent performances by its cast. Tessa Thompson’s sincerity and passion as Detroit really won me over. It is a rather gutsy role, as she portrays a performance artist perfectly bonkers for this film. Danny Glover is fantastic as the curmudgeonly telemarketer Langston. I also enjoyed the work of Jermaine Fowler who steals a few scenes as Cash’s friend Salvador. The film also has some hilarious turns by Kate Berlant, Michael X. Sommers, Robert Longstreet, and Omari Hardwick.
Armie Hammer gives a riotous scenery-chewing performance as Steve Lift, the head of Cash’s company. His screen time is limited, but absolutely memorable. Finally, Lakeith Stanfield gives an outstanding performance as protagonist Cassius Greene. It is an award nomination-deserving turn that is sure to boost his career in a big way.
Speaking of career boosts, Boots Riley is sure to get himself another movie deal after wowing critics and audiences with this brilliant debut movie. This is a huge success for someone who doesn’t have much of a filmography yet. Let’s just hope success doesn’t go to his head like his protagonist Cash. I would love to see more ballsy and phenomenal work by this truly creative mind for years to come.