Jamie Kennedy's favorite movie review site
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average85.71%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 1 rating

Latest Reviews

Copshop by Jay Seaver

Dear Evan Hansen by Peter Sobczynski

Ghosting Gloria by Jay Seaver

Hold Me Back by Jay Seaver

Behemoth by Rob Gonsalves

Pig (2021) by Rob Gonsalves

Val by Rob Gonsalves

Little Vampire (2020) by Rob Gonsalves

Kate by Rob Gonsalves

Language Lessons by Jay Seaver

subscribe to this feed

Sorry to Bother You
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"The Surreal Life of Riley"
3 stars

Considering the fact that both films are the debut works from African-American artists who have already made an impact in other areas, deal with issues of race, power and economics and tell their stories using audacious blends of genre conventions, satire and righteous anger, there will be very few reviews of “Sorry to Bother You” that will not suggest, either implicitly or overtly, that it is this year’s “Get Out.” The difference is that “Get Out” had a simple but elegant button-pusher of a premise that was brilliantly executed by writer-director Jordan Peele in a way that took viewers on a wild, volatile and constantly surprising ride without ever losing control or focus for even a moment—if he had, there is an excellent chance that the entire thing might have collapsed like a ton of bricks. “Sorry to Bother You,” on the other hand, is undeniably ambitious and finds writer-director Boots Riley swinging for the fences in virtually every scene but while his film is certainly teeming with ideas, it doesn’t quite know how to pull them all together into a cohesive whole. The result is one of those movies that has a number of strong elements and energy to burn throughout but which eventually leaves most viewers exhausted and curiously unsatisfied.

The film is set in an alternative version of contemporary Oakland where things just seem to be slightly off and the new fad is a concept called Worry Free Living, a movement in which people voluntarily give up the hassles of the real world (and their pesky freedoms) for housing, three meals a day and a guaranteed job. Our hero is Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young man desperate to get a job that will allow him to make enough money to move him and his performance artist-activist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), from their current residence inside the garage at the house belonging to his uncle (Terry Crewes). He manages to land a job with a telemarketing firm, RegalView, cold-calling people in the hopes of selling them that hottest of modern-day products, encyclopedias. Although he follows the company directive to “Stick to the Script,” Cassius’s sales are non-existent until a fellow black man in the next cubicle (Danny Glover) offers him a piece of sage advice for when he is on the line with a possible customer—use his “white voice” as a way of ingratiating himself with them. Thanks to this tip, Cassius becomes an instant success and while his fellow telemarketers are riling things up by calling to form a union, he is promoted upstairs by management so that his talents can be used in the service of what RegalView really makes its vast profits from. Needless to say, this puts him in conflict with Detroit, his friends and his conscience but the money is so good that he is able to rationalize what he is doing and who he is becoming for a while until the truth becomes impossible to ignore.

For maybe the first 30-40 minutes of so—roughly to the point where Cassius gets promoted and we first learn what RegalView is really selling—it seems as if “Sorry to Bother You” might be the rare film to actually live up to all the hype that it has generated since making its debut earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. The opening job interview sequence is a little masterpiece that taps into the mood of the moment as well as the anxieties felt by anyone desperately trying to land a job—any job—and transforms them into the kind of offbeat and knowing humor that one might find in a classic Second City or “SNL” sketch. Likewise, the revelations of Cassius’s “white voice” and what RegalView is really selling are conceptually risky—they are the kind of jokes that, if not handled properly, could just die horribly—but they also inspire big laughs as well. Riley also shows himself to be equally adept behind the camera as he is at the computer keyboard—the look of the film is striking and unique without calling too much attention to itself and he gets winning performances from Stanfield and Thompson to boot. And while this may not have been the prime concern of the film, I can also state that Riley’s taken on the soul-deadening world of low-level telemarketing took me back to my very brief and totally unsuccessful stab at that kind of employment with a clarity and precision that was almost terrifying to behold.

It is at this point, however, that Riley begins to lose his grip and the film begins sliding off of the rails. It soon becomes apparent that while he is never at a loss for ideas—he probably burns through three times the number that one finds in a normal movie—he is not entirely surefooted when it comes to differentiating between the good ones and the bad ones. For example, there is a long sequence in which Detroit does her performance art—an act that involves her being pelted with various objects while reciting from the hallowed text that is the screenplay for “The Last Dragon”—that must have seemed funny on paper but which pretty much grinds the movie to a halt and just the point where it needs to be building momentum. Things go completely haywire once the drug-addled CEO of RegalView (Armie Hammer) arrives with the idea of using Cassius’s gift for selling to push his latest nightmarish venture through—instead of treating this notion as a clever one-off joke, the entire last third of the film hinges on it and transforms what was once smart and biting into a less successful version of those go-for-broke social satires that Robert Downey Sr. used to make back in the day like the immortal “Putney Swope.” Even the previously deft touch with the visual content becomes increasingly “quirky” in a manner that only suggests someone trying to ape the style of Michel Gondry (even to the point of overtly name-checking him) without grasping the emotional underpinnings that make his flights of fancy so distinct.

The other key problem is that at a certain point, Riley seems to lose interest in his hero as an individual character. Cassius’s success, for example, eventually drives a wedge between him and Detroit but it feels less like a genuine conflict between two seemingly compatible people torn apart by success than an arbitrary plot development right out of the Screenwriting 101 handbook. Cassius becomes less distinct of a character as things proceed and he soon just becomes someone to be pushed along by the increasingly bizarre plot. This is a shame because the early scenes really do a good job of establishing him as an appealing and sympathetic guide to the oddness of Riley’s vision. This is especially a shame because Stanfield, who made a big impression on viewers in a key role in “Get Out,” is quite good as Cassius and single-handedly takes scenes that might have been unplayable in the hands of other actors—such as the one where he is compelled by the RegalView CEO to rap in front of a roomful of white coworkers and ends up delighting them by basically yelling “nigga” over and over—and makes them both painful and hilarious to watch. And yet, not even he can quite sell some of the ridiculous places where the screenplay takes his character, though his efforts to do so are indeed heroic.

I don’t necessarily want to write off “Sorry to Bother You” because it is undeniably ambitious and because when it does work, the results are legitimately amazing. And yet, it never quite pulls together into a coherent artistic statement and there are simply too many times when it feels as if it is just being weird for the sake of being weird. I can’t really recommend it entirely but if my description of it makes it sound intriguing to you, I would not necessarily tell you to avoid it. If nothing else, it definitely marks Boots Riley as a filmmaker to keep an eye out for in the future. He may not have made a completely satisfying film this time around but I am definitely curious and eager to see what he comes up with next.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31894&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/05/18 18:40:06
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/14/18 Bob Dog Truly subversive movies like this rarely get made anymore. 5 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  06-Jul-2018 (R)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2018


  DVD: 23-Oct-2018

Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 
Privacy Policy | | HBS Inc. |   
All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast