“Sorry to Bother You” is the first movie I have seen at the London Film Festival press screenings that received a round of applause come the end credits. Steve McQueen‘s “Widows” didn’t receive a round of applause, nor did the Keira Knightley vehicle “Colette.” But Boots Riley‘s screenwriting and directorial debut, did. That’s how great his film is. Here’s the official synopsis of this Annapurna Pictures release: In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a universe of greed.
It’s by far one of the most original films of the year, its off-kilter humour and vivid imagination providing plenty of laughs throughout the entire runtime. The entire cinema loved it, and it’s received rapturous reviews to match. It’s currently got a score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Emily Yoshida of Vulture heralded the film, calling it “ultra-progressive, radical storytelling that manages to stay totally joyful and inventive throughout. Riley manages to both never come off as taking the thing too seriously, but he also verbalizes his intersectional, anti-capitalist ideals in visually unforgettable fashion.”
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone applauds its groundbreaking nature: “Oakland-based rapper Boots Riley scores a knockout debut as a director with a no-mercy satire that gets up in your face, breaks all the rules – and then invents new rules so it can break them too.”
And it certainly does break all the rules. It’s a zany, surreal, bizarre and brilliant. It’s absolutely singular. And it’s for that reason that Riley could seriously compete at the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay. No film this year could possibly claim to be as adventurous or bold or original than this one. And that’s exactly what you want in this category, right?
What really helps the film is it’s comparison to last year’s Oscars breakout movie “Get Out.” That film’s director, Jordan Peele, loved “Sorry to Bother You” so much that he actually rented an entire cinema screen out so more people could see it. Tessa Thompson, too, who plays Lakeith Stanfield‘s girlfriend Detroit (“my parents wanted to give me an America name,” she says in the movie – genius), says that Peele’s film paved the way for this one.
Dom Nero of Esquire has written extensively about the two as works of art with similar qualities, also bringing in Donald Glover‘s “This is America” music video as a third comparison. “All three of the films seeming to build together a sort of contemporary collection that examines the menace of our capitalist culture through a black lens. Though Glover and Peele’s works are not entirely comedic, the two multi-hyphenates have a storied history in the genre; all three filmmakers seem to be proclaiming in their works that words and sounds are not enough to convey the depth of this centuries-long reckoning, and the lens itself must be forced into the frame.”
What bodes well here is that Peele won Best Original Screenplay for “Get Out” last year, edging out Martin McDonagh for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Sure, “Sorry to Bother You” is a much more comedic and surreal film — it’s like “Get Out” on acid — but there are shared elements. The social commentary using bizarre, absurdist plot points, the white man as the figurehead of conflict and difficulty for their black lead characters, their visually unique style, and stunning, exuberant soundtracks.
We must also mention three actors that are, simply, great in the movie. Stanfield (“Atlanta”) owns the film in the lead role as Cassius Green, with humour, intelligence, horror, and touches of realism bringing the entire movie to life. Thompson (“Thor: Ragnarok”) is also very good – an artist/activist full of verve and bite. And Armie Hammer clearly has a ball as the ridiculous Steve Lift, the CEO of the company at the center of the action.