Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You is an ambitious movie, way more ambitions that anything a first-time director has any right to tackle (prior Riley co-directed a short with Chris Wroubel).
Lakeith – or is that “LaKeith? – Stanfield (Knives Out) is Cassius Green, a guy who’s moving through life in a perpetual state of barely hanging on, doing whatever menial job he can to just keep a roof above his head.
Tessa Thompson is Detroit, his girlfriend and an artist who twirls signs to make a living.
On the brink of losing their home – he hasn’t paid his rent for months – he finds a job as a telemarketer, and unearths a plot that’s destined to change the world as he knows it.
As I said, it’s ambitious, which is a problem because the movie deals with skin color, class, corporatism and greed, ideas enough to fill two or three movies.
This overreach is a problem because Sorry To Bother You is also a satire, though because it’s bitten off much much it seems unfocused and chaotic, instead of lean and purposeful.
And there’re some great satires out there, two of my favorites are Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987) and Starship Troopers (1997).
I suspect most people don’t even think of them as such, though they are.
Robocop is a satire of corporatism and consumer culture, where people are disposable and profits are matter above all else while Starship Troopers is a story about fascism (what makes it so fascinating is that it’s from the perspective of fascists, not a position most film makers would be willing to take) and how relatively easy it is to fall into a situation where nothing else matters beyond promoting the will of the State.
Those two movies aren’t subtle in the story that they tell, but they are subtle in terms of the satire that lies just beneath the skin.
Sorry To Bother You is, unfortunately, fairly obvious. Everything it has to say laid right out in the open, which makes it sometimes feel a bit pedantic .
It’s worth seeing mainly due to the elan Boots Riley brings, along with a cast who appear game for virtually anything (as Tessa Thompson demonstrates).