Sorry to bother you, but we have got to talk about Sorry to Bother You.
Boots Riley’s directorial debut stars Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield as telemarketer Cassius Green, a down-on-his-luck resident of Oakland in a present-day alternate reality. When Cassius has trouble making sales, his co-worker Langston (played by Danny Glover) suggests he use his “white voice” to trick his customers into being more open-minded to his pitch. Sudden, massive success sends Cassius on a roller coaster ride where he must learn what it means to truly be a friend while ultimately working for and then exposing Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) for the cultist mastermind he is.
I’ll give the movie this: The trailer is probably one of the best trailers to come out of modern Hollywood. The trailer for Sorry to Bother You gives absolutely nothing away. Although I knew I was in for a hyper-stylized movie about telemarketing, I had no idea I’d be in for a movie that also features a pseudo-cult that seems to have its claws in pretty much the entire world, the occasional appearances of what seems to be a police state, a game show literally titled “I Got the $#*+ Knocked Out of Me,” and goddamn horse people. I was not high enough to be adequately prepared for what I was about to sit through.
I’m not sure where the “one of the best movies of the year” summations are coming from. I found myself bored watching Sorry to Bother You. The movie is also incredibly confusing, jumping from plot point to plot point with thin connections. Also, it may be a victim of Riley’s stylization, but things that occur in the movie often aren’t sufficiently explained, if an explanation is even attempted. For example, whenever Cassius or Steve says the name of Omari Hardwick’s character, the character’s name is visually and audibly bleeped out. Why? I don’t know. The movie never bothers to tell us.
The movie isn’t all bad. Armie Hammer is phenomenal as Lift, a super capitalist and cult leader who is the closest thing the movie has to an outright villain. In every scene he’s in, Hammer goes for broke, never once letting the ridiculousness of the movie’s circumstances shade his performance. “Oh, we have horse people now?” I can imagine him saying to Riley. “Let’s get it! Let’s go!”
Sorry to Bother You seems to not want to bother us with building its world. It decides to just drop us in and hope we figure it out, despite throwing more stuff at us as the movie goes on before we’ve even had the chance to process what came before. It wants to be a movie about capitalism, racism, sexism, and the human condition, but fails at all of the above. Its message is as lost as Hardwick’s character’s name.
Sorry to Bother You gallops away with 2-out-of-5 horse people.