Chew's Reviews - Sorry to Bother You

By Gary Chew | July 12, 2018 |  

Open Friday, July 13 in Sacramento | 

Norma Rae had a hard life in Alabama. Tom Joad's tough row to hoe took him from Oklahoma all the way to California. Cassius Green, a bit further north of the wrathful vineyards, now tries to make a buck or two in a city called Oakland. In fact, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, from the controversially interesting activist/directer Boots Riley, was shot in Oakland, California; it's much funnier than either NORMA RAE or THE GRAPES OF WRATH. It should be: both of the early classics aren't supposed to make you even smile.

Cassius, played by Lakeith Stanfield, needs a job. (Too bad Riley didn't use a bit of The Silhouettes' record GET A JOB on the music track.) Cassius (I love that name), on the skinny edge of desperation, lucks into a telemarketing gig … on commission. His white bosses are awful, of course. However, one of the veteran telemarketers on location advises that Cassius will earn lots more dough if he uses “his white voice” while talking to any prospective “customer.” (Talk about laughter in a movie house!)

And, ain't it grand that Danny Glover is the Cat with the helpful info for Cassius? Danny's character's name is Langston, another “perfect” label for someone in Riley's edgy-funny flick.

Our hero takes Langston's advice and rapidly proceeds to the upper levels (really) of this telemarketing business's building right there in downtown Oakland. It's a special upper floor where the coin fairly flows and champagne is drunk. But the problems that ensue for Cassius and his hot-blooded girlfriend, Detroit, make the future seem not so cheery as he first senses it might be. (True Mr. Riley, the name Detroit, for a lovely, brown-skinned woman, is right on the mark.) Tessa Thompson is her real name, and you probably saw her recently in HBO's spine-tingler, WESTWORLD. Which reminds me to say that Mr. Stanfield also recently appeared in the spine twisting feature-length GET OUT! Wow and ouch, at the same time.

Despite the clever focus and saucy entertainment that Riley's picture affords, the third act slides off the rails. Messaging seldom seen perspectives on union organizing and straight ahead left-wing politics ... plus the influence of recent horror-like films surrounding African-American culture, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU trends out unsatisfying. GET OUT and that series of PURGE movies are difficult not to influence hip, with-it artist/activists who want to speak out about obvious, complex problems that snag the seams of our society.

A nicer way to put it might be: less of a heavy hand is a stronger method of making underlying points that are paramount to the screenwriter/director. The close the picture is also predictable and trite, even after all the early-on offered-up fun.

Then again, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is still a film I recommend. The actors in it are quite effective at doing the hopelessly flawed characters they're assigned, Detroit being the one with fewer flaws. It's really, for the most part, a very fun run. After-the-movie conversations for this one will approach being almost as entertaining as the first two acts are.
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Chew. All right reserved.

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