Blu-ray Review: Sorry To Bother You

By , Contributor
Most overrated movie of 2018 (so far)? On the shortlist, undoubtedly, is writer-director Boots Riley's Sorry To Bother You, a critic's darling that bombed in theaters this past summer. Yes, it's bold and unpredictable. Yes, it's ultimately worth seeing, if for no other reason than Riley has taken a stab at doing something different. In the bonus materials, the director states he wasn't trying to make a "great film," but rather an "important one." And all the discussion that Bother has sparked signifies that he has indeed met his goal.

But Lord have mercy, is this one uneven, clumsy piece of work. There is commentary here on social structure within the U.S., "fairness" among the classes, and—above all—race. But much of the material is handled in such a blunt, hammer-you-over-the-head way, it should elicit more groans and eye-rolls than laughs and/or thought. The bold absurdist/anarchic mentality brings to mind an amateurish mix of influences as diverse as Luis Bunuel, Paul Bartel, Paul Verhoeven, and Mike Judge. The latter's wildly overpraised, but awful "satire" Idiocracy appears to have served as a stylistic model. They're both garish, they're both rather juvenile at times, and they both spiral out of control in their third acts.

Sorry To Bother You sends up capitalism, the telemarketing industry, and the U.S. power-structure that finds wealthy, predominantly white men supposedly exploiting the lower classes. Much of one's level of enjoyment of the film will be directly related to how one feels about these topics (hint: the capitalist system as a whole does not fare well here). Cassius Greed (Lakeith Stanfield) cons his way into a job at a call center where he tries selling junk to anonymous callers. Among the funniest and most effective sequences cooked up by Riley depicts Cassius literally plopping himself into the homes of his potential customers, interrupting all manner of activity.

Once a coworker (a neat Danny Glover cameo) advises him to affect a "white" voice when cold-calling, Cassius begins to excel at his job. Simultaneously, co-worker Squeeze (The Walking Dead's Steve Yuen) starts making much ado about unionizing. Really? An old-fashioned pro-unionization message in 2018? And smack dab in the middle of the least-likely industry to take kindly to such a movement? But Cassius is torn between standing by his coworker friends, which includes his live-in girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and his newfound success as a "power caller," which affords him the ability to upgrade his digs and his possessions.

Meanwhile there's a parallel plot involving a company called WorryFree, which promises room and board in exchange for its employees signing unpaid lifetime contracts. The two threads converge in an admittedly unexpected way that's quite honestly best left for discovery by the viewer. Your mileage will certainly vary, but honestly I felt that by the time Bother veers into bizarre science-fiction, Riley had lost the plot. For comparison's sake, contrast this with Jordan Peele's much subtler social satire about race, Get Out (which also features Lakeith Standfield in a small role). That film threatens to run off the rails with a late-film sci-fi twist, yet somehow Peele keeps things reigned in enough to prevent the kind of breakdown of credibility that Bother demonstrates.

Sorry To Bother You is a tiresome film with major storytelling issues—Riley's inexperience (this is his debut film) is no more apparent than in the film's clunky, episodic plot mechanics. But it also packs in a boatload of ideas about a great many things, which makes it at least worth seeing. The whole thing is maybe a little too outrĂ© for its own good, quite honestly. Mainstream audiences might be able to stick with it while Cassius is literally crashing through roofs and into people's houses while making cold-calls. They may be able to snicker at the obvious send-up of corporate subservience in the WorryFree promo/propaganda films.

But eventually, without getting into spoiler territory, many will have checked out by the time Riley's more unusual allegorical ideas take hold and derail the initially rather simple plot. At that point, who is his audience? Viewers who seek weirdness for weirdness' sake? Maybe. But at that point, you've cut your audience so far that the film's underlying points about blacks in the U.S. being forced to surrender their identity in order to be "accepted" by whites probably isn't reaching as many people as it deserves to. Should an "artist" dumb down his "art" in order to reach a wider audience? In this case, I guess it depends on how "important" Riley wanted his film to be. If a tree falls in the woods, and there's no one there to hear it...

Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-ray edition of Sorry To Bother You features writer-director commentary by Boots Riley and an interesting, informative featurette "Beautiful Clutter," in which Riley explains his intentions for (and process behind) the film.

Sorry to Bother You BD.jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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