I like all kinds of movies. I even like some popular, mainstream, formulaic “Hollywood” films. I like bad movies, even if they don’t quite reach that “so bad it’s good” status. At the end of the day–I mean, the end of the film, all I ask is to be entertained.
Sorry To Bother You may have a few A-list celebs in it, but it is far from mainstream. Worlds away, one might say. There’s very little of it that makes sense. The parts that make sense end up being the least interesting parts of the film. This movie will indeed bother you, but not necessarily in a bad way.
The story takes place in what appears to be modern-day Oakland, California, in some kind of alternate reality. Our hero Cassius Green, is living in his uncle’s garage, contemplating his place in this messed-up world, where the biggest business is some place called WorryFree, where employees dress up like Minions and perform slave labor, and the top TV show is called “I Got The S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!” His girlfriend, named Detroit (…), is a performance artist.
Sidebar: I like weird, off-center, darkly-comic movies. Whether it’s trippy psychedelia, like Head, or extreme gross-out gunk, like Kuso, I can just turn my brain off and take it all in. However, I hate performance art. HATE it. Not a fan of spoken-word poetry, either. While all of Sorry To Bother You had me scratching my head, the scene with Detroit’s performance just struck me as “well, this is stupid.” There’s something about someone standing in front of a crowd, spouting stream-of-consciousness nonsense while people throw garbage at them, that just turns me off.
Anyway, Cassius is forbidden to see any of his girlfriend’s art until she has her big show. Probably because when Detroit isn’t sign-spinning (badly, I might add), she’s prowling the streets defacing WorryFree billboards with messages of resistance. Meanwhile, Cassius gets his foot in the door of a successful telemarketing firm, but he himself doesn’t start having success until he learns to talk to potential clients in his “white voice.” Now, it’s not like Cassius sounds like E-40; his friends even think his normal voice sounds pretty white. His co-worker tells him that using a “white voice” is more than just sounding like your drawz are too tight; there’s a whole attitude that goes along with it. He has to talk like all his bills are paid, and like he’s never been harassed by police, and other stereotypes. Before long, Cassius sounds a lot like David Cross, and he moves from the boiler room up into the higher echelon of “power callers,” where he meets the big boss, a smarmy bastard named Steve Lift. Cassius is livin’ it up, while his former colleagues are trying to union up. Cassius crosses the picket line and quickly becomes Lift’s newest lackey, as he trots him out and basically tells him to start shufflin’ for the crowd.
Just when you think this movie is gonna be another satire on racial, societal, and class issues, boom–they start throwing equisapiens at you. An equisapien is, other than a word made up specifically for this movie, a creature that is part human and part horse. But not like a centaur, no no no.
Ya see, Lift figured if humans are gonna be worked like horses, why not bridge that gap, y’know? Understandably, Cassius is decidedly not on board with the whole mutation thing, and he’s even willing to be covered head to toe in excrement so that the masses can learn WorryFree’s dark secret. The movie heads for a somewhat typical Hollywood ending, when all of a sudden, things get even weirder. Really, there’s nothing I can say here that could accurately describe the sheer volume of double u-tee-eff displayed during the film’s 111 minutes. It has to be seen to be disbelieved.
Sorry To Bother You is the first effort from rapper/activist-turned-director Boots Riley, frontman of the Bay Area hip hop group The Coup. If you’re familiar with any of The Coup’s music, or videos, you know that Boots is a far-out cat, whose heart is in the right place. His movie spares none of his avant-garde creativity. The film is visually appealing (horse dicks notwithstanding), and the performances are good. If you liked Lakeith Stanfield in Get Out and Atlanta, you’ll like him here. Jermaine Fowler as Cassius’s bud Sal, threatens to steal every scene he’s in.
Many critics like to pat themselves on the back when they figure out the underlying message of a movie, even one as insane as this one. Sure, there are satirical moments, and it tells us in no uncertain terms that selling out is bad, and mutating humans is even worse. But sometimes, something is weird just for the sake of being weird. Bottom line for me usually, is: Was it entertaining? Yes. Crazily so. Three and a half out of five stars.