Like many people, we missed this indie SF satire from rapper/composer turned writer/director Boots Riley. Its nomination for a Hugo makes it this week’s Weekend Review.

Title: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Cast and Crew

Directed and written by Boots Riley

LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius Green
Tessa Thompson as Detroit
Jermaine Fowler as Salvador
Steven Yeun as Squeeze
Danny Glover as Langston
Omari Hardwick as Mr. _______
Terry Crews as Sergio
Kate Berlant as Diana DeBauchery
Armie Hammer as Steve Lift
Michael X. Sommers as Johnny
Robert Longstreet as Anderson
David Cross as Cassius’s White Voice
Patton Oswalt as Mr. _______’s White Voice
Lily James as Detroit’s White British Voice
Forest Whitaker as First Equisapien / Demarius
Rosario Dawson as Voice in Elevator
Shelley Mitchell as Mrs. Costello
Indigo Jackson as Cynthia Rose / Neanderthal Woman
Eric Jacobus as Blackwater Commander
Elaine A. Clark as Game Show Host
Sara Buskirk as Worry Free Commercial Voice
Mistah F.A.B. as Passenger
Safiya Fredericks as Colette
Thessaly Lerner as DIY Wig-Making Host
Ken Gamble, Tom Woodruff Jr. as Equisapiens

Premise:

A financially-challenged man gets a job as a telemarketer, and quickly finds himself complicit in a nightmarish, dystopian scheme to sell arms and de facto slave labor.

High Points:

The film begins as an inventive comedy (the movie depicts Cassius literally dropping into the lives of the people he cold-calls) and only gradually opens into a broader satire, with the humour turning very dark and disturbing. Overall, the approach proves distressingly effective.

Low Points:

Satirist are at war with the world, and their work can turn wildly anarchic, taking issue with their own artistic and structural conventions. That isn’t necessarily a flaw, but Sorry to Bother You careens out of control at times, crashing recklessly into targets in a manner that may cause you to lose track of the plot.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 The film contains elements we’ve seen before, but I can’t recall anything looking quite like this.

Effects: 5/6 Despite working with a relatively low budget, certain scenes required effects, and a combination of inventiveness and modern tech makes those effects work very well.

As a bonus, the film also incorporates an amusing animated short.

Acting: 5/6 The leads are strong, though the quality of the performances varies across a sizable cast.

Production: 5/6

Story: 4/6 The story is uneven, but effective, and on a few occasions brought to mind the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Emotional Response: 5/6 The film delivers a number of laughs, even as it begins to scream itself hoarse over things that aren’t, in reality, very funny.

Overall: 5/6 Sorry to Bother you focuses its satire on economic systems, class, race, and political power, but, along the way, it takes shots (a few of them good-natured, but many, quite angry) at absolutely everything that crosses its path. The privitization of prisons? Reality TV? Sexism? Performance Art? “Right to Work” Laws? Lack of privacy? Cultural stereotypes? Motivational speakers? Youtube? Rap? Recreational drugs? Meme culture? All targeted. I could keep typing, but I imagine you get the point.

Be forewarned that you may be offended or bothered at some point or other, especially if you identify as (insert anything you identify as here).

And I suspect Boots Riley isn’t sorry about that one bit.

In total, Sorry to Bother You receives 33/42

Notes

Although some view the movie as a specific critique of America under Donald Trump, Riley intended his satire to be far-reaching. He penned most of the script years earlier, and even removed the line, “Worry Free is making America great again”—written before Trump starting using a similar line—to minimize the notion that he was writing a narrow critique (quoted in Morrison, P. “Boots Riley on power, organizing and who really runs the country. (Hint: It’s not Trump)”. Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2018).