Why Boots Riley’s ‘Sorry to Bother You’ is an instant genre and mind-bending classic
By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer
Film buffs, take note! If you’re in the mood for something really different, check out Boots Riley’s new film “Sorry to Bother You,” and be prepared for a roller coaster ride that is at once subversive, satirical, and political with some quasi-science fiction bizarreness thrown in for good measure.
Without giving away the plot, it’s not a stretch to say Riley — an African-American poet and punk rocker who has been a staple in the Oakland, Calif., music scene for more than two decades with his band “The Coup,” and whose political roots can be found in his native Chicago activist parents — has created probably one of the wildest and most imaginative film allegories ever produced.
And like “Get Out,” another recent African-American surrealistic film exploration of our contemporary culture, “Sorry to Bother You” deserves to be ranked as another instant new-wave classic.
Riley’s repertoire of politically charged music and organizing work has called out racism, capitalism and police brutality encouraged hip-hop “edutainment,” and created relationships with other organizing groups around the nation since the 80s.
What’s astonishing about the film is that it marks the arrival of another clear indication of Riley’s multiple talents: translating his social change work onto the large screen in a manner that’s not only entertaining, but it’s downright effervescent.
The film centers on Cassius Green – an oronym for “cash is green” in this case – played by Lakeith Stanfield, known for his roles as Darius in Donald Glover’s hit TV show “Atlanta,” as well as the ill-fated character of Andre Hayworth turned Logan King in Jordan Peele’s blockbuster film “Get Out.”
When Cassius takes a lackluster, commission-only gig as a telemarketer, his rancorous and jaded co-worker Langston – played hysterically by Danny Glover – offers the all-import advice that proves to initially offer the golden goose, but ultimately opens a can of whoop-ass on Cassius that just won’t stop: “Use your white voice.”
Playing Cassius’ girlfriend Detroit, Tessa Thompson (“Creed” & “Thor: Ragnarok”) is a socially conscious and self-directed artist who is appalled at his transformation into a moral weakling once he starts making that baller cash.
As Cassius descends into the land of evil – with the help of Omari’s Hardwick’s mysterious Mr. ___ (you got it, there’s no name listed, it’s just a big old dash where the name should be!), and the evil Steve Lift, the owner of the giant, megacorp that actually owns the telemarketing firm that employs Cassius (played by Armie Hammer) we’re given a new take on the very old “all that glitters” theme.
If the road to hell isn’t weird enough in this film, when (in a genre plot twist) a horrifying science-fiction-esque truth is revealed, the satire-morality play takes an even more outlandish direction for viewers to ponder upon.
This is a movie that’s not only worth seeing, it’s worth seeing more than once, as you might be hard-put to absorb all the heightened visuals and innuendos in a single viewing.
But, bizarre as it is, “Sorry to Bother You” is a reflection of the upside down nature of good versus evil, corporate control versus the average worker, race, class and greed taken to the nth degree in America today.