The directorial debut of Boots Riley was certainly an intriguing and unique film, to say the least. I had been greatly anticipating this film since first seeing the trailer, which promised a stylish and somewhat surreal film with its premise of a down-on-his-luck call center employee who begins to climb the ranks in the workplace by using his “white voice” when speaking with customers. The trailer demonstrated these calls by literally placing the protagonist, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), in the rooms with the customers as an abstract interpretation of the odd relationship between caller and recipient, as the various customers carry on their activities during these calls. We see Cassius physically interact with a family eating dinner, a man on the toilet and even a couple having sex.
As a former call center employee myself, my attention was immediately grabbed by the trailer with its artistic flair. Thankfully, the film did deliver in terms of style and humor. The color palette of the film, filled with vibrant neon colors, was very pleasant and added to the entertaining and playful tone of the film. A recurring gag involving the reveal of several pairs of outrageous earrings worn by Tessa Thompson’s character, Detroit, made for a fun joke without feeling repetitive. The humor overall was well executed, and the audience I saw the film with would often burst out in laughter with each ridiculous joke. The film aims to use its humor to serve as satire, as Cassius often expresses feelings of existentialism, and the idea of abandoning his friends by effectively white-washing himself with his vocal gift opens the door for some really intriguing social commentary. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do a whole lot with this aspect.
I feel Riley may have aimed to say too much in his film and ended up with a lot of great but half-baked ideas. The beginning of the film showcases advertisements for an alternative housing situation dubbed “WorryFree,” where people could live for free by providing manual labor for the company. It was extremely obvious something more nefarious was going on as the film often reminded us of this place despite its lack of connection to the current plot and the over-the-top way in which the residents were presented: represented as brain-dead slaves dressed up like minions (yes, THOSE minions). The idea of slavery came up at several other points as well but again seemed to have little to nothing in terms of actual substantial commentary. Even the enticing gimmick of the film fell apart about halfway through, proving only to be a conduit to carry our protagonist to the big twist of the film.
The various supporting characters fall by the wayside throughout the film as well, as the characters played by Terry Crews and Danny Glover, who was prominently featured in the trailer, have only a scene or two more in the film than what has already been seen. The relationship between Cassius and Detroit ends up underdeveloped as the film is pulled in too many directions to take the time to focus on their issues, concerning itself more with the wacky antics of the film’s plot and style. Still, I greatly admire the sheer creativity present in Sorry to Bother You, as it’s refreshing to see such an original film among the barrage of uninspired blockbusters that populate the cinemas right now, even if its zaniness undercuts the more brilliant ideas. While his first film may have been a failure for me, I look forward to seeing what else Riley will offer us in the future, as we must remember to praise creativity when it is presented to us.