Boots Riley debuts with a point-blank satire of the contemporary society that turns our attention to the dystopia that happens in real time.
After passing a stressful job interview, Cassius Green (a spectacular character portrayal from Lakeith Stanfield) becomes a telemarketer for RegalView, a company that provides their customers with a variety of products, from sofas to books. Following the “stick to the script” rule doesn’t bring him much success, but when his more experienced colleague (Danny Glover) encourages him to use his “white voice” (dubbed by David Cross), his sales skyrocket.
Exceeding his targets brings him recognition from the upper management, who poach him for the top floor and invite him into an exclusive group of “power callers”. But the lush office upstairs from the monotony of call centre cubicles hides a handful of secrets. Cash uses his skills to excel at his job, which eventually brings him the attention of the company’s CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer, who revels in ridiculousness and embraces the caricature to the fullest). Meanwhile, his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson’s electric, daring performance that radically challenges our expectations with every word and gesture) and friends from the call centre decide to unionise and fight for their rights.
Boots Riley holds up a distorting mirror to the contemporary society, boldly challenging every single aspect of everyday life. His story is full of heavy observations, but the film presents them in a darkly funny way that adds to the shock factor. The most popular television shows thrive on violence and controversy. Viral videos turn serious matters into memes. Social issues don’t get much airtime until the audience gets their scheduled “bread and circuses”. The cult of celebrity glorifies rich “geniuses”, who shamelessly promote their motivational, pre-packaged-as-lifechanging books. Success is more valuable than anything else, and it helps to raise individuals to a godlike status. Happy families smile from the sugar-coated adverts on billboards and TV screens. But a critique of mindless consumerism that doesn’t consider its social impact is just a tiny fragment of a multifaceted, uncompromising satire. There’s a lot more to unpack here, and the less the viewer knows about it, the more impactful it is.
The director pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the mechanics of the corporate culture either. People who work at the lowest level of RegalView don’t earn enough money to survive. When they challenge the middle-management with questions about the wages, they hear that “social currency is more important than money.” The staff meetings are spiked with a rhetoric designed to put wool over people’s eyes. Myths of legendary target-smashing workers and morbid metaphors are brought up to make the discussion “entertaining” and create “a sense of family” within the group. How much can you demand if you work with your family and have fun, after all?
The workers don’t bond over enthusiastic buzzwords and self-congratulatory remarks, uniting against the exploitative practices instead. None of them is truly motivated by the efforts of their supervisors, and they’re open about their lack of excitement. But the promise of rising through the ranks is presented as something unattainable, yet within your reach if you work a little harder. An incredible career opportunity accompanied by a grand paycheque, it’s too lucrative to be abandoned – especially when you’re desperate, and the ability to support your family is at stake.
Sorry To Bother You challenges the transgressions of the modern society, presenting them with humour that gets too close for comfort. Every dark joke hides a terrifying truth; the writer-director strikes with humour to knock the audience out time after time, no holds barred.
Sorry To Bother You opens as a part of the London Film Festival. Its UK release is scheduled for the 7th of December.
- Sorry To Bother You (2018)