There’s weirdness for the sake of being weird, and then there’s the absolutely trippy, ridiculous, absurdist, balls out fucking fever dream that is Sorry to Bother You. I can appreciate movies that are a little out there, but Bother leaves “out there” in the dust a few light years behind it. Ostensibly a comedy about a telemarketer angling for a better future, it’s really a darkly (like pitch black) subversive tale about the racial and class divides and inequality in our country, and the struggle in trying to bridge those gaps.
Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) is Cassius Green (subtle this movie isn’t), an aspiring telemarketer in a beat-up car, living in his uncle’s garage, just trying to make a buck or two. In the opening scene, he gets hired because he has one of the strongest qualifications for a telemarketing career-he’s breathing. Cassius’ artist girlfriend Detroit (her parents wanted her to have an American name) is played by Tessa Thompson, because she’s legally obligated to be in everything. With gigantic earrings bearing bold statements, T-shirts with aggressive phrases, and a shock of orange-tinted hair, she is the yin to Cassius’ corporate yang. When his career starts to take off, thanks to his employment of his “white voice” (voiced by the supremely white David Cross), Cassius is caught between success and the unionizing co-workers he’s leaving behind.
But the movie is about more than that. So much more. Armie Hammer turns up as the seemingly benevolent corporate leader, who takes a special interest in Cassius. Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Kate Berlant, Danny Glover, and Steven Yeun fill out the supporting cast, each with little moments of absurd grace. It’s a hard movie to explain, and the more I would try, the more I would ruin the experience. Writer-director Boots Riley’s first feature is ambitious, and even if every swing for the fences doesn’t result in a homerun, it’s at least better for the attempt. Some running gags are cute (Cassius carries a picture around with him of his dad and his old car that changes based on the emotion of the scene) and some go way too far. If nothing else, it’s still a visually striking film peppered with strong performances and an aggressively subversive message that makes a point whether it elicits laughs, groans or eye rolls.
My grade – B-