‘ Sorry to bother you ’ is the telemarketer’s opening gambit and as they usually ring at the most inopportune time demanding the development of a variety of techniques to get rid of them. So we’ve told telemarketers that we’re naked and then proceed to ask them what they are wearing – that ends the call in about 10 seconds. Or telling them that that you’re on toilet with appalling constipation and then proceeding to make the most atrocious grunts – those calls end even more quickly. Or coughing repeatedly and at great length throughout their sales pitch gets them giving up sooner or later. And don’t get us stated on the calls from people trying to scam us by saying they’re from microsoft and try to get us to reboot our PC’s.
Sorry to Bother You though is somewhat different, set in Oakland it has Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) living in his Uncle’s garage with his girl friend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and behind with the rent due to his no job status. Desperate he is interviewed for a job with a telesales company. It’s one of the best scenes as the interview goes disastrously wrong as Cassius tries to blag his way through it only for the boss to call him out. But it’s his sheer chutzpah and the fact that telemarketing will take anyone who can string a sentence together and, like batteries chickens, crammed into a partitioned office desperately trying to sell. In an all too brief appearance there’s a great supporting role by Kate Barlant as staff trainer and motivator Diane DeBauchery who ignores Cassius pointing out that her name should be pronounced ‘debauchery’.
For first time feature writer director Boots Riley he’s put together some great sequences here as Cassius is put in the same room as the person as he’s calling as he tries to sell to couples getting jiggy on a sofa. Cassius who’s appropriately known as Cash, is not making sales and a co-worker tells him the key is to talk like a white man. ‘Not Will Smith white, Not Lionel Richie white’ are some of the better lines in Riley’s satirical script but when Cash adopts the white man voice he soon starts earning and is promoted to being a Power Seller given the code to the office lift to go to the upper floor to sell morally reprehensible but big commission paying items and services.
Sorry to Bother You is a satire that gets ever more broad with Riley taking shots at a wide range of targets that includes viral videos, social class and even Amazon retail. Especially Amazon retail because the company featured here is called WorryFree Ltd whose TV adverts promise riches and promises that seem too good to be true. And they are. The CEO is a morally repugnant Steve Lift played with relish by Armie Hammer who invites his power seller Cash to his house for a drug fuelled orgy and it’s here that Cash finds out what Lift’s company is really doing.
Riley’s script has some very good moments in it and some incisive commentary but the satire gets ever more sledgehammer heavy. A top rating TV show called ‘I got the shit kicked out of me’ is an all too obvious dig at TV’s desire to head ever downwards in the quest for ratings. A viral video emphasizes just how the most inane social media film clips become powerful when shared and retweeted and Riley, himself a musician, even lampoons rap and also takes a dig at director Michel Gondry (not an altogether bad thing frankly if you were unlucky enough to have seen, ‘The Green Hornet’). It’s this scattergun approach to too many targets that distills the films impact and at just under 2 hours it’s a little too long to sustain its satire but Sorry to Bother You shows that future Boots Riley films are something to potentially look forward to.
Here’s the trailer for Sorry to Bother You……