Boots Riley Gets it Frighteningly Right in “Sorry to Bother You”

                                              Image courtesy of nymag.com

What can be said about Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You”? A lot can be said. There is humor in this film, a love story, juxtapositions of wealthy elites against the working class, and most of all a phantasmagorical surrealism. All these disparate elements and sub-stories are all rolled into one surprisingly cohesive story. Which is a testament to how good of a writer and storyteller writer/director Boots Riley is.Known mostly as a political activist and lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, Boots Riley in his directorial debut has spearheaded a film that is apt for our current, tumultuous political climate. “Sorry to Bother You,” though infused with humor, metaphor, and satirical commentary on the growing rift between economic elites and everyone else, is still entertaining in spite of the film’s harrowing message.

“Sorry to Bother You”—which some film critics might deem a science fiction comedy—follows the journey of a young African American telemarketer, Cassius Green, as he adopts a Caucasian-sounding sales pitch and rises to the top of the sales/marketing ladder. During his ascent Cassius Green is faced with choosing the wealth and creature comforts of his recently acquired success or helping his fellow workers organize a labor union. (Consider the play of words with Cassius “Cash” Green’s name that references money and sports icon Cassius Clay aka Mohammad Ali. And like Cassius Clay, Cassius Green has a ‘eureka’ moment that changes is ideology and life perspective.)

                                     Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

At first glance, “Sorry to Bother You” is reminiscent of Spike Lee’s attempt in the late 1980s and early 90s to make socially relevant films that commented on race, class, and social mobility. (Riley even uses some of Lee’s cinematic techniques.) Still, Riley’s foray into cinematic expression is different from Spike Lee because there is a lot more humor and Riley’s metaphorical, phantasmagorical images, though harrowing and rooted in science fiction, when examined more closely, those images reflect accurately the times we are living in. Which in some ways makes those metaphorical references tangibly eerie.There are some very strong performances and standout moments in “Sorry to Bother You.” Though Danny Glover has a small supporting role as a fellow telemarketer, he almost singlehandedly is the deus ex machina of this film, expertly providing the momentum to push the film forward. Omari Hardwicke as Mr. _________ is brilliant as a clandestine character that aids Cassius Green in his transition from worker drone to successful marketer. And LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius “Cash” Green brings nuance and depth to Cassius Green nerdy, and ship-without-a-sail character. Stanfield also craftily navigates Cassius Green’s evolution from aimless worker drone to informed citizen.

                                         Image courtesy of syfy.com

Standout scenes include, but not are not limited to, the scene where nerdy Cassius satisfies his rap music thirsty white co-workers by shouting the N-word every two seconds; Cassius stumbling upon equine/humans in the men’s room, and Cassius becoming more sexually appealing after he becomes more successful, even though his physical appearance has not changed. And even more impressive is how strategically Riley handles crowd scenes, a real accomplishment for a first-time director.In this current political climate, one would wonder how “Sorry to Bother You” has achieved nationwide release. Perhaps, this film slipped through cracks because of its criticism of capitalist elites and big business and not the Trump Administration directly, even though they are one in the same. At any rate, “Sorry to Bother You” is a film that must be seen.

                                       Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

In “Sorry to Bother You, we finally have a film with a strong people of color cast that makes you think. We need many more films just like this!!”Sorry to Bother You” is playing in cinemas nationwide.

—William S. Gooch

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