A black telemarketer rises through the company ranks in Sorry to Bother You, a madcap and blisteringly political comic satire directed by hip-hop artist Boots Riley. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) begins the film as a new recruit into the world of telemarketing. After struggling to make any sales, his co-worker, played by Danny Glover, advises him to start using his “white voice” when talking to customers. Cash’s white voice (overdubbed by David Cross) turns out to be a uniquely effective sales weapon that propels him towards a promotion into the upper echelons of the company. Meanwhile, other entry-level telemarketers – including Cash’s girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thomson) – start to unionise, leading to a fierce-tempered strike. To say much more about Sorry to Bother You’s plot would be to ruin it. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of surprises. The satire springs outward in unexpected directions, never losing its sense of purpose, or forgetting its keen humour. The characters follow recognisable arcs, treading the traditional ups and downs expected in a comedy, but they are never made the focus. Riley, who also penned the screenplay, has his eye firmly fixed on the bigger picture: a righteous assault on the accepted premises of capitalism, with specific application to contemporary America. In an era when the existence of unions is under constant threat, Sorry to Bother You is an emphatic reminder of their essentialness. It is a testament to the film’s quality that, despite tackling dense and important themes such as race and capitalism – and tackling them well, it should be said – it is still very funny throughout. Atlanta’s Stanfield is a strong lead, mostly used as a straight man next to the succession of activists and flamboyant hucksters he meets. Best among these is Armie Hammer, who plays a sinister pretty-boy C.E.O., although special mention goes to Kate Berlant, playing a ‘team leader’ brought into the telemarketing firm. Without spoiling much of what makes Sorry to Bother You so special, it is hard to truly discuss the film in any great detail. But it is a film that merits discussion, after viewing, with friends and family and co-workers. With all the visual inventiveness, the many absurdist flourishes and a script that moves along at a mile-a-minute, it can be easy to overlook just how successful Riley’s debut is – it’s smart, incisive, and cynical enough to draw blood.
Image: Focus Features
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