Wednesday, July 18, 2018

[Review] Sorry to Bother You

Lakeith Stanfield (the best character in Donald Glover's "Atlanta") takes on his first major leading role in Boots Riley's feature directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You. This is a film that reels you in, knocks you over your head, and then flips your expectations upside down.

Set in a quirky version Oakland, we meet Cassius (Stanfield) as he struggles to make ends meet while living in his uncle's garage with his activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson, Creed & Thor: Ragnarok). Early on, Cassius lands a thankless low-level job at a telemarketing company, but he soon discovers that when he uses an uncanny "white voice" his success increases and he quickly moves up the ranks. The higher he gets, things get stranger and stranger, and he's exposed to some dark secrets near the top, which causes him to wrestle with his morals despite raking in the cash.

Our experience as an audience mirrors Cassius' confused perceptions as we begin to ask What the hell is going on? Is anything real? Does it matter? Were we slipped some drugs? This dialed-up cocktail of gonzo escapades and bullseye commentary is a sly, manic, weird, riotous, and funny beast to witness. The film contains shades of Office Space, Brazil, Get Out, and even Vince Staples' surreal short film Prima Donna, yet it feels like a completely unique experience in its own right. The unpredictable narrative clocks in with a list of hilarious, dark, and provocative sequences along with eccentric exchanges of dialogue. There's a whimsy, fever dream-like quality to it all, and each scene ticks along with a dose of unhinged energy. And if things weren't already bizarre enough, there's a late act twist that practically warps the film's entire genre into something else. I won't go into detail, but "insane" only begins to describe what lies beneath.

As erratic as this film may seem, its messages stay thematically prominent. The script throws satirical jabs at capitalist greed, corruption of power, and race relations while bluntly expounding on economical pitfalls and the costs of just being able to make a living, especially for the disenfranchised. The cast is fantastic from cubicle to cubicle. Lakeith Stanfield's central performance ranges from naive and hopeful to perplexed and terrified as his character is put through the ringer, and then some. Tessa Thompson continues to impress with her sheer expressiveness. Steven Yeun appears in a role that is a refreshing change from seeing him on AMC's wilting TV series "The Walking Dead". And then there's Armie Hammer, who amusingly plays the company's crazy and coked-out CEO -- his character is practically a psychopathic mound of gifs waiting to happen.

Sorry to Bother You's brash, abstract, and absurdist tendencies won't be a big sell for everyone, but if you're looking for something audacious and outside-the-lines, this is an off-kilter vision that is worth pushing the buttons on.

* 8.5/10 *

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