Most weeks the movie du jour exists to perpetuate water cooler talk for a few minutes. Also please note: Water cooler discussion can take place in front of said water cooler as easily as in a grocery store, a coffee shop or a random drunken text.
This week a new film opens and people are going to be talking about this shit for years to come. Get on the ground floor of a cult film in the making!
Sorry to Bother You literally wants to change the way people perceive movies.
Events start innocently enough with a down-on-his-luck guy, Cassius Green (Laikeith Stanfield), getting a job as a phone telemarketer. Say it slow and it sounds like “cash is green.” The old guy in the next cubicle, Danny Glover (who seems to have a contract that requires him to say “I’m too old for this shit,” in every movie he makes), advises his novice neighbor to use his white voice. Not the nasally white-voice that Richard Pryor used to evoke in his stand-up routine, but a realistic polite voice of commercial convention.
Writer/director Boots Riley has been the lead vocalist of Oakland-based The Coup since the early 1990s. Riley’s screenplay for Sorry to Bother You has been available in book form on Amazon (and other outlets) for four years, so it’s not a spoiler to write about some of the film’s twisted moments. Riley and various musical co-conspirators lay down a solid soundtrack that always seems to be playing in the background throughout the film.
Cassius soon excels in his selling technique and gets bumped upstairs to the executive level. Riley films Cassius talking to his client by showing him dropping through the ceiling of their respective abodes and talking face-to-face with his prospective buyers even as he’s miles away in his cubicle. This is just the start of a series of surreal shots. Cassius uses an exclusive elevator to travel to the top floor that requires a punch-in code of nearly fifty numerals.
Riley constantly has television images flickering in the background. Ads for Worry Free, an organization that buys citizens rights and provides them room and board for life before turning them into slave labor, are constatly playing, not unlike the telly news segments that subconsciously unwind in John Carpenter’s They Live.
Cassius soon finds his corporate boss, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), also runs Worry Free. Meanwhile, the most popular show on the tube, a reality game show titled “I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me,” that draws 150 million viewers per episode (roughly half the census of America), keeps the population sedated.
Detroit (an impossibly sexy Tessa Thompson, always sporting radical earrings), teams with her boyfriend Cassius to bring down the status quo. Unbeknownst to Cassius, Detroit serves as a member of the underground Left Eye brigade, participating in everything from public protests to sabotage of the Worry Free way of life.
We haven’t even gotten to the weird part.
Steve Lift invites Cassius to an orgy and afterwards offers him a five-year, $100 million contract to become the “Martin Luther King, Jr. of the equisapiens,” a crossbreed involving work slaves that have been genetically modified to be part human and part horse. When the film reveals the first horse-person in one sequence, the audience flipped out. I myself was transported to the equally surreal Lindsay Anderson film, O Lucky Man! In this 1973 film, Malcolm McDowell is confronted by a person with the head of a man and the body of a sheep.
Many of the moments in Sorry to Bother You feel like they were cherry picked from films of previous generations, whether Blaxploitation films or even outrageous social satire like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964).
Sorry to Bother You isn’t through pumping up the volume of genre-crossing filmmaking and self-actualization bromides that flash before the viewers: Social upheavals and riots unwind, yet the majority of citizens remain complacent so long as they can watch an infomercial where a soda can hits a protester in the forehead and leaves a mark.
Sorry to Bother You opens wide this weekend.