Published Jul 09, 2018Longtime funk musician and activist Boots Riley has never had trouble making a splash — look no further than the Coup's original cover art for Party Music, which portrayed Riley and his bandmate Tahir blowing up the World Trade Centre in New York City. The album's artwork, which had initially been teased in June of 2001, was switched out by its November 2001 release date for obvious reasons.
Entering the film world with Sorry to Bother You, Riley has put another firm foot forward, offering an absurdist work of art that will polarize audiences and instantly solidify a cultish fan base. The film is a pitch-black dystopian comedy filled with cartoonish sight gags and razor-sharp social commentary. Planting himself firmly on the line between anti-capitalist activism and the need to survive, Riley has managed to make a film that's at once ridiculous and poignant.
Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green, an aimless young adult trying to achieve significance the way his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) has in the art world. He's employed as a telemarketer, a dead-end job that becomes all the more satisfying as he unlocks his "white voice" — an exaggerated and nasal dork cadence that's dubbed in by David Cross.
Outside of the office, increasing political unrest exists via a group of activists known as Left Eye. Their goal is to take down WorryFree, a prison labour organization that disguises itself as a, well, worry-free retirement organization. Their leader is a seemingly benevolent billionaire (played with perfectly sinister cynicism by Armie Hammer) whose end game is bafflingly evil.
Plot-wise, the less you know about Sorry to Bother You the better, but the film is an incisive and insightful look at race, late capitalism, the seemingly hopeless nature of activism and, well, just about every other modern malady plaguing North Americans today.
With his subject matter and story, Riley has created something profoundly compelling with Sorry to Bother You. As if that weren't enough, the film is packed with transgressive humour and audaciously colourful aesthetics. Those points even converge with a lengthy stop-motion section credited to a phallic nom de plume — Michel Dongry.
Sorry to Bother You belongs to a rich tradition of satires, falling in line with everything from Putney Swope to Pootie Tang to Idiocracy to UHF. Bright, loud, audacious and endlessly fun, Sorry to Bother You is one giant, beautiful middle finger of a debut. (eOne)