Review: Sorry to Bother You

Score: B+

Director: Boots Riley

Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rated: R

America, I'm not sure you're ready for Sorry to Bother You. Wilder than even its red-band trailer could convey, the directorial debut of Oakland musician Boots Riley takes a bit from everything, including 9 to 5, Idiocracy and, uh, The Island of Dr. Moreau. But it's all presented in a way that you haven't seen before, which makes it one of the most stunning debuts of the year, even if its reach exceeds its grasp.

Lakeith Stanfield (TV's Atlanta) steps into a rare lead role as Cassius Green, a new employee at a telemarketing firm. Barely making ends meet – he lives with his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) in the garage of his uncle (Terry Crews) – he's desperate to succeed at a job that will crush his soul, and then outright steal it. Encouraged by a co-worker (Danny Glover) to use his "white voice" (dubbed by David Cross), he rises the ranks quickly, eventually becoming a Power Caller, where he uses his talents to sell products a lot more lucrative and illegal than encyclopedias and magazines.

Sorry to Bother You has so much ambition – visually, politically and within its story – that it doesn't land every punch. It wants to be about workers' rights, the moral bankruptcy of capitalism, integrity in art and a million other things. That it pulls off most of them, while also being consistently hilarious, makes it a triumph.

A third act turn into sci-fi, which also introduces Armie Hammer cranking it up to 11 as a coke-sniffing CEO, is so audacious that you'll either go with it or abandon the interest you had in a movie that's already bonkers compared to 99 percent of the movies you've seen this year. Without spoiling anything, it makes the film's subtext literal, which actually removes some of its power.

Even if it doesn't all work, Sorry to Bother You is so blazingly original that it demands to be seen, preferably with an audience that also doesn't know what it's in for. It's a landmark debut for Boots Riley. Hopefully his next movie is just as daring, but a lot more cohesive.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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