Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler
Director: Boots Riley
Running Time: 111 mins
Sorry To Bother You is an American film about a man who, after taking up a job at a call centre, discovers the key to success in telemarketing, thrusting him upwards into a world of greed, debauchery and more.
This is a clever, if not really, really strange film. With a passionately political tone firing throughout, taking a small-scale story and using it in context of wider issues, the film does brilliantly to intrigue and entertain by combining that fiery attitude with some truly bizarre surrealist elements. However, while that all works very well early on, it’s those very surrealist tendencies that ultimately prove the film’s undoing, failing to stick the landing when it shifts up into full gear in an insane final act.
Let’s begin with the film’s opening act, which is arguably its strongest point of all. Following a man down on his luck who takes up a job at a simple call centre, the movie uses the humble setting as a microcosm for all the politics it wants to take aim at and push, with a passionate support for workers and unions, and a pointed attack on the culture of greed that it sees as the very destruction of modern society.
Taking on that political message could have come across as somewhat of a rant, if it weren’t for the excellent humour and writing throughout that makes it all work really well in the bizarre context of this film. With that small-scale model of modern society, the film uses many tongue-in-cheek gags to point to contemporary social issues, cleverly drawing simple and clear parallels between the two worlds, while it also begins to slowly feed you with some of its absurdist humour, blurring the lines between a simple comedy-drama and something a whole lot more fantastical.
Still, the first act is a great start to the movie, and although the second act doesn’t quite have the same intensity as the beginning, as we see our main man rise through the ranks into a terrifying world of greed, it retains its strong political core, as well as a continual and gradual growth of strange and absurd events that add a delightfully playful flavour to the film, making it just as enjoyable to watch as it is genuinely interesting.
However, there’s a big shift in atmosphere when it comes to the third act, and it’s where the film unfortunately takes a bit of a dive towards the end. First off, its political message peaks about two-thirds of the way through, and following the moment where we see that fully out in the open, it almost feels as if the movie has nothing else to say, having made its point, and now dragging you through 20-30 minutes of finale with little genuine depth.
Secondly, the shift is one to a decidedly more surrealist atmosphere, where all of the rules of reality seem to fall completely by the wayside, and the film erupts into a bizarre and manic piece that feels almost unrecognisable from the beginning. It’s reminiscent of the moment in Get Out where we see what’s really going on behind the scenes, something so utterly insane, but it unfortunately doesn’t work to improve the film more in this case.
The biggest reason for that is the fact that the political depth is gone in the final act, and it’s all about the absurdity, which feels a little too shallow and simply just not as interesting. What’s more is that the clever, tongue-in-cheek comedy of the earlier acts disappears as well, and while the surreal events that unfold towards the end do have a comedic value, they don’t stack up to the measured and well-written humour prior to the final act, which means that the film comes to somewhat of a ridiculous and disappointing end.
Overall, then, I liked Sorry To Bother You. I was impressed with its clever writing from the beginning, with a slick and clear allegory for its central political themes, as well as good humour that finds a great balance between the real world and the strange absurdist tendencies of the film. The only problem comes in its final act, where all that falls by the wayside, to be replaced by excessively surreal and ridiculous comedy-drama that has none of the depth or wit of the earlier acts, which is why I’m giving it a 7.2.