Film Review: ‘Sorry to Bother You’ is Brilliance Like We’ve Never Seen Before

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It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, a film comes along that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Watching “Sorry to Bother You” is an experience like that. It’s much like it must have felt watching an early Charlie Kaufman movie. The sense that this is the first of its kind. Boots Riley‘s debut is a thunderclap of originality that changes the game. Once you see it, it can’t be unseen. The film is a masterpiece, easily the best movie of the year so far, and instantly iconic. Any description doesn’t do it justice. This is closer to a religious experience or taking drugs. Either way, I’m addicted and want more.

“Sorry to Bother You” truly stands out as one of a kind. Angry and sarcastic, yet always satirical, it’s as if Kaufman joined forces with Spike Lee. Mix the one of a kind natures of “Being John Malkovich” and “Do the Right Thing” together, then update things to 2018, and you might have something similar. And yet, nothing like this exists in the world. Whatever you think you know about this film, brace yourself. Especially once the third act gets underway, the movie goes somewhere that’s truly unpaved.

Trying to describe the plot of the film is a fool’s errand. Still, some set up is in order. Taking place in a modern-day Oakland that’s just a bit different than our own, we meet Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) on a job interview. Hired as a telemarketer, he’s eager to move up in the world, something his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) supports. The job is terrible, but when a fellow caller (Danny Glover) advises Cassius to use his “white voice” while pitching products, a door is opened. Quick to take to this new style, Cassius is promoted to the glorious position of power caller. At the same time, Detroit is becoming active in protest against a mega-corporation that is potentially enslaving citizens.

Now a power caller, Cassius is introduced to a new way of life. Rich and powerful, he and Detroit grow apart. Then, he’s told to meet with Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) a CEO with some very strange ideas. Of course, Lift runs the company Detroit sees as so dangerous, setting up conflict with Cassius. Then, things get weird. Again, it’s prudent to be vague here, since so much happens. This is just a tiny hint at the originality on hand. So much of the satire is visual, talking about it doesn’t do it justice.

Lakeith Stanfield has been one of the more interesting actors out there for a while now. Here, he gets a showcase that stands out as his best work to date. “Sorry to Bother You” should elevate him to A-list status. What he did in things like “Short Term 12” is just prep work for this. Cassius is his true calling card. The chemistry he shares with Tessa Thompson is also outstanding. She brings an authenticity and intensity to the part that elevates the character. It’s another appearance that suggests Thompson is bound for major stardom. Between her earrings and her t-shirts, her character is always the one you’re eager to see pop up again, yet it’s her performance that truly makes Detroit memorable. Stanfield may be the star here, but Thompson is very much one of its secret weapons.

Also worth noting is the supporting turn by Armie Hammer, the other secret weapon here. A burst of insanity, Hammer is clearly having a good time. His delivery of some ridiculous lines really helps sell the flick. The aforementioned Danny Glover is a welcome presence, while the rest of the cast contains fun roles for the likes of Kate Berlant, Terry Crews, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, and Steven Yeun. Cameos include Rosario Dawson and Forest Whitaker. Then, there are the voices of David Cross, Lily James, and Patton Oswalt. They’re the “white voices” dubbed in for the film. Hilarity and some angry satire mix perfectly. It all just works.

Writer/director Boots Riley makes one of the most impressive filmmaking debuts ever. Yes, ever. This is that level of achievement. Riley also helped to contribute the score, showcasing a wide range of talents. His direction, mixed with visuals from Doug Emmett, constantly place interesting exaggerations into the film. The look has the feel of Spike Jonze, another compliment to Riley. Then, there’s his script, which is so unique the word almost feels like it’s not apt. What he’s saying, how he’s saying it, and where he allows the story to go is a nuclear bomb of originality. This is truly a one of a kind voice emerging before our eyes.

As a special note, please do avoid as much spoiler material as possible. It’s not like a blockbuster or superhero flick where you’ll have a sequel spoiled. Still, there’s so much originality, especially towards the end. The blinder you go in, the more blown away you’ll be. The film works best when its wilder notions are a surprise.

Without question, “Sorry to Bother You” stands out as the class of 2018 so far. In fact, it’s the best film in at least a year or two. Immediate cult classic status should be in store for this movie. Give yourself over to what Riley has created. In a decade, we could look back upon this in the same way we look at early Kaufman or Lee works. It’s that impressive. “Sorry to Bother You” is a true must see movie.

“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU” IS DISTRIBUTED BY ANNAPURNA PICTURES AND OPENS IN THEATERS ON JULY 6.

GRADE: (★★★★)

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