Boots Riley’s new, soon to be classic, Sorry to Bother You, is an artfully created socio-political commentary on the modern western world. The film is a rare socialist call to collective action from our decidedly non-socialist cousins from across the pond.
The film centres around the young, naive and slightly existential Cassius Green (a pun for ‘Cashes Green’), who struggles with paying rent and finding meaning in life. He picks up what appears to be a dead-end telemarketing job in a dingy basement office, despite his horrible interview performance. The company’s unsuccessful philosophy is to ‘stick to the script’. They use cliche, textbook methods, alongside the promise of being a mythical ‘Power Caller’, to motivate their workers, all of which unravels hilariously in a scene which questions their intentions.
After an old colleague (Danny Glover) teaches Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) how to do a real ‘white voice’, but ‘not his “Will Smith” white voice’, Cassius is recruited up the ranks to the top floor to become a ‘Power Caller’. In doing so, he abandons his colleagues who have been protesting for better pay and working conditions, for a job which he soon realises is a lot darker than anything he could have imagined. The dingy backrooms of the shiny corporate world are exposed — a reminder that there is always someone losing out. The film then takes another sharp turn, highlighting Silicon Valley’s obsession with transhumanism and the dangers of having scientific advances made available only to the rich.
Riley achieves his desired effect through the use of awkwardly angled camera shots and the distorted volume of sounds and speech. Set in Bay Area Oakland, the film shows us the tent cities that the existence of companies like ‘Worry Free’ are causing, a stark reminder that the events of the film – surreal as they might be – are not far from reality. Together with the artificial office lighting and the oppressive Californian heat leave you feeling disorientated.
There is never a dull moment in this high intensity film, which is scattered with big twists and turns throughout. Categorising this film would be impossible, as it jumps from theme to theme and style to style. It is a cocktail of funny, thrilling, sad, thoughtful and sinister, with film techniques ranging from those in Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), to those in Wes Anderson’s colourful pieces. It comes together to form an exquisite piece of psychedelic cinema. You would never have thought that this film was made with only $3 Million budget.
The film, unapologetically garish, has an abundance of glaringly obvious symbolism and metaphors throughout, but rather than coming across as obnoxious, it is overwhelming, as is its intention. It reveals everything we turn a blind eye to as blindingly sinister. Whilst being a massively warped and exaggerated reflection of society, the film remains scarily relatable. As a ‘social thriller’ and surrealist comedy, which has its moments of magic realism, Riley’s film may transcend reality — but the reason it is so good, is that it hits frighteningly close to home.
Image: Pax Ahimsa Gethen via Wikimedia Commons.