American rapper Boots Riley’s debut feature film Sorry To Bother You is funny from the outset as it satirises workplace matters, capitalism and corporate corruption. Set in an alternate reality in Oakland, California a young African-American telemarketer, Cassius Green, adopts a ‘white voice’ to rise in the ranks at his office. As he reaches the apex of his career he realises how harmful his actions are to wider society and what an ugly place it can be when you reach the top.
In this universe, everything is a little bit off with Riley’s world building envisioning a surreal and shockingly dark timeline. There’s the ‘Worry Free’ facility, which houses low income workers in cramped rooms and essentially forces them into slave labour and the most popular game show on television is called ‘I Got The Shit Kicked Out Of Me!’ It’s exactly what you think it is. Neat cultural touchstones are also inserted such as references to The Last Dragon and a beautiful nod to the late Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes from TLC.
Riley crafts stylish chaos such as telemarketers literally crashing into living spaces as they relentlessly intrude with their hard sells. He heightens and exaggerates the experience of living in a capitalist society by shoving callous practices and hard truths in the viewers face with absurd humour. He observes precisely who holds the power when it comes to the job market, and how difficult it can be to preserve honour when all the odds are stacked against you and a dazzling pay cheque is waved in your face.
Stanfield leads a stellar cast who are all captivating in their respective roles – whether he’s down on his luck or truly terrified at the dodgy dealings of rich people he nails the comic timing. Tessa Thompson swaggers elegantly in her role as a political artist whose integrity is compromised when dealing with the upper echelons of the art world. Steven Yeun charms as a protestor and staunch union supporter and Armie Hammer is superbly slimy as a CEO. The combination of committed performances and inspired magical realism lends the film a wild and frantic energy that explodes to unexpected ends in the final throes.
Sorry To Bother You was seen and reviewed at the BFI London Film Festival.