Sorry to Bother You
I remember being excited to interview writer, director, actor Robert Townsend after he made his debut film Hollywood Shuffle. Well, here’s another African-American writer, director, doing his first film. And I wouldn’t compare it to fellow African-American Townsend, despite it having a few similar themes. This is some Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) sh** going on here, mixed with a touch of Mike Judge (Idiocracy, Office Space), a bit of Spike Lee and Jordan Peele.
Bootsy Collins is one of my favorite bassists. Well, Boots Riley, the writer/director of this, is going to be one of my favorites if this is the type of film he’s capable of making. It’s some brilliant satire that goes in a million crazy directions.
Cassius Green is played by Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Short Term 12, Straight Outta Compton). He’s the type of hapless hero you can really root for. Just as you enjoy those types of characters in great films like — Jack Lemmon in The Apartment, Jonathan Pryce in Brazil, Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine, and Alan Arkin in Catch-22, The In-Laws, and…well, most of his films. Stanfield, as Cash Green (get it?), gets a job at a telemarketing company. In the opening scene, we see the job interview. It’s so perfectly done, I knew I was in for a terrific film.
It appears to be a slightly distant, dystopian future in Oakland. Green is living with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson of Creed, Annihilation, Thor: Ragnarok). She’s an artist, and has a job as a sign twirler. They live in the garage of Uncle Sergio (Terry Crews).
Before he can even get out the phrase “Sorry to bother you” on cold-calls, folks hang up on him. Now, we felt sorry for the sad sacks in the Glengarry Glen Ross when they tried to make a sale. In this we laugh, as we’re shown both parties in the conversation (and one hysterical scene that was taken right out of Why Him? when Bryan Cranston was on the toilet). Things start going a lot better when a co-worker (Danny Glover) tells Green he should use his “white voice.” That immediately has him talking the way Richard Pryor and other black comedians do when immediating Caucasians. Yet we soon hear the voices of comedians Patton Oswalt and David Cross providing the voice-overs. It makes things a lot funnier and it surprisingly never gets old.
After being so successful using the white voice, he’s moved upstairs, where he becomes a “power caller.” That means a much bigger paycheck, nicer car, new suits, and a dilemma with his girlfriend. You see, Detroit started working part time there, and a few of their co-worker friends (including Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead, and I, Origins) are thinking of protesting because of poor working conditions.
There’s also a company called Worry Free, and it’s run by the evil Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). I won’t go into what they’re involved in and how this will relate to Green. You just have to see all the wackiness as it transpires.
Boots Riley is the frontman for the hip-hop group The Coup, and their songs fill the soundtrack (they also have an album of the same name). San Diego fans might remember that in 2006, their tour bus crashed as they left the House of Blues show here. It drove off the road, flipping and catching fire. Some in the group were badly injured. It’s a shame that that story is probably bigger than their terrific album “Steal This Album” (Abbie Hoffman reference intended). But it was the time Riley spent working as a telemarketer that inspired this movie more than his time rapping (the movie does have a fun, awkward attempt at rapping). The songs he used from his band were a bonus.
This picture was so ambitious and so funny. It was scattershot and needed a bit of editing, but it’s such an original, bizzare screenplay, it makes it worth watching (although it’s not a movie for everyone).
My wife and I couldn’t stop laughing and talking about it on the way home.
4 stars out of 5.