So often, we watch TV and movies for escapism. Action-packed, hero-filled Marvel movies inspire us and convince us, even just for a few hours, that the good guys will defeat the bad guys. Comedies bring us characters who mess up far more than we do, making us feel that maybe all the mistakes they’ve made are actually pretty laughable. Horror movies scare us, but when the lights come back on, we know the monster isn’t real. Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is none of those movies.
The surrealist indie film takes place in a futuristic Oakland, in a world where people can sign a lifetime labor contract in exchange for food and shelter for the company WorryFree, in what is essentially legalized slavery.
In Sorry to Bother You, Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) struggles to make ends meet while living in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage with his artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Cash gets a job as a telemarketer, and at the direction of his co-worker Langston (Danny Glover), Cash finds his “white voice” (David Cross) and quickly rises through the ranks.
Cash is then conflicted between either joining efforts with his friend Squeeze (Steven Yeun) to create a telemarketers’ union or make a fortune doing morally bankrupt telemarketing work (selling human labor to WorryFree).
Some have compared Sorry to Bother You to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, in how it uses satire and dark comedy to critique race in America. Sorry to Bother You manages to critique race in America, politics, labor, and morality all under two hours.
It would seem that trying to pack that much into one movie would leave the audience feeling confused the movie lacking focus, but with this film, it’s the opposite. Riley is able to weave together a complex world where each problem is connected to the next. This movie proves that most problems society faces are in fact connected, in one way or another.
One of the broader ideas the movie touches on is the idea that when faced with a problem society feels it can’t fix, everyone just decides to accept and get used to it. Sorry to Bother You is a protest of that idea. The idea that what we do doesn’t matter, and won’t have any long-term impact or repercussions.
This film is a fresh take on sci-fi and a furthering of the genre that blends together sci-fi, satire, comedy, and horror. You’re going to leave the theater feeling dazed, confused, but also energized. The movie is a call to action as much as it is a call to examine what we take for granted in American society.
Each shot of the movie was jam-packed with symbolism that made me want to pause the movie and walk right up to the theater screen and take a closer look. From the handmade earrings Detroit wears, to the billboards that line the streets of Oakland, there’s protest everywhere. The film welcomes over-analysis, mostly because it’s comprised of so many layers.
With the success of Sorry to Bother You and Get Out it just doesn’t hold up anymore to say that a movie can only scare the audience, or only make them laugh. Sorry to Bother You proves one film can do all of the above and can do it well.
Cover image via Red Band Trailer.
Also published on Medium.