Film: Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You (2018) is one of those amazing, bonkers films that begs a one-sentence, spoiler-free endorsement along the lines of GO SEE THIS—FULL STOP! But that would be a lazy review, and while this is a film that needs to be seen to be believed, it also needs to be seen, so let me try to put my enthusiasm into context.

Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) is down on his luck: living with his uncle, poor, low on prospects. When he finally lands a job in a telemarketing call center, it looks to be a dead-end gig: a dreary, repetitive exercise in dispiriting cold calls. But Cassius’ superiors—boss Anderson (Robert Longstreet) and supervisor Johnny (Michael X. Sommers)—motivate him with hope for a possible promotion to the coveted position of “Power Caller.” Cassius’ coworkers, led by Squeeze (Steven Yeun), think this prospect of success is a myth, and they organize to improve working conditions at the company. But Cassius’ quickly growing facility for salesmanship propels him up the corporate ladder, causing him to lose touch with his colleagues, his roots, and his humanity.

A quick glimpse at Sorry to Bother You’s trailer presents it as a zany, surrealist comedy. That’s not exactly a false impression, but it’s a limited one, because ultimately there’s a lot more going on here. Oh, it’s definitely funny, the humor fueled by smart writing, outrageous conceits, and terrific performances from the entire cast. Stanfield delivers a breakout leading-man performance, and he has an exceptional co-star in Tessa Thompson, who plays Cassius’ performance-artist girlfriend Detroit. The comedic support is superb all around, most notably from Kate Berlant, Armie Hammer, and Yeun. And yes, it’s surreal, with a wacky, inventive sensibility that at first struck me as Charlie Kaufmanesque. But the film piles on more and more meta elements as it goes, going to unpredictable and much more tonally interesting places. It starts at full throttle, a feast of laughs and eyeball kicks, but proceeds to shift into ever-higher gears, revealing itself as a scathing, jaw-dropping critique of runaway capitalism, with all its racially charged undercurrents. It adds up to an unforgettable experience as powerful as it is entertaining. Superlative-laden as it may be, this review really doesn’t do it justice at all. So, you know, go see it—full stop!

Tessa Thompson and LaKeith Stanfield in Sorry to Bother You
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