It’s difficult to summarize Sorry to Bother You. Written and directed by rapper Boots Riley (his debut film as both writer and director), the film is easily the most original of 2018, and it’s got things to say.
The story follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who really needs a job. The only place that’s hiring (and will also hire anyone) is a local telemarketing firm. At first, everyone Cash calls almost immediately hangs up on him, which is not so great since Cash works on commission. Eventually, he takes the advice of his coworker Langston (Danny Glover) and begins to use a “white voice,” which sounds exactly like David Cross. (Cross’s voice was dubbed over to hilarious results.) Soon, he becomes the firm’s number one telemarketer, and his life begins improving. That is, until the fratty CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) takes an interest in Cash. From there, things quickly devolve.
Sorry to Bother You has been described as a spiritual cousin to Get Out in that it’s a genre movie that offers a commentary on race, among other things. That’s pretty much where the similarities end. Riley’s film adopts a much zanier, madcap tone and the cinematic language of music videos (think Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, the latter of whom gets name-checked in one of the year’s most memorable sequences), and he combines absurdist, surreal humor with a searing invective of capitalism. (The lead character’s name is literally “Cash Is Green,” but the decided lack of subtlety actually works in the movie’s favor.) The film deals with the pernicious ways capitalism bolsters racism and serves as modern-day slavery, and everything in the film relates back to that theme, including a third-act twist that somehow manages to be utterly unexpected and jarring while also inevitable and totally fitting. The twist, and how Riley incorporates it into the final act, offers one of the sharpest rebukes of capitalism in recent memory—and the fact that the movie manages to remain darkly (and/or uncomfortably) hilarious through that plot development is a testament to Riley’s skills as a filmmaker.
(A note on that twist: If you’re one of those people who like to read the script before watching a movie, just don’t with this one. I know I shouldn’t encourage you to not read, especially since the script is such a great read, but this is a twist you want to know nothing about and see for the first time yourself. When you get halfway through the script, just stop reading and go watch it.)
Other films seem to be edging Sorry to Bother You out of the end-of-year, best-of conversations, which is a shame. This is one of those movies that stick with you for a while, and it will surely be talked about for years to come.