Saturday, July 21st, 2018
Home / Reviews  / SFIFF Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: Purely Imaginative, Entirely Original, Wholly Entertaining

SFIFF Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: Purely Imaginative, Entirely Original, Wholly Entertaining

Sorry To Bother You is an intelligent, batshit crazy satire that offers plenty of the theater of the absurd, a standout performance from Lakeith Stanfield, the most original script of the past two years, and plenty of laughs and food for thought.

SFIFF Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: Purely Imaginative, Entirely Original, Wholly Entertaining

“The culture. The youth. The energy. The love. I haven’t seen anything like this since the days of She’s Gotta Have It.

Terry Crews on Sorry To Bother You and the black filmmaking renaissance happening right now.

Terry Crews is absolutely right. While watching Sorry To Bother You, I felt something powerful, a collective energy in the audience, that I haven’t felt in a movie theater in a long time. I saw the work of a singular filmmaker showcasing his artistic masterpiece, making a stamp on the world. Boots Riley the filmmaker has arrived.

Impressively, Sorry To Bother You just so happens to be the musician’s directorial debut. With its clever and cutthroat racial commentary and biting satire, it certainly harkens back to the mid-’80s when Spike Lee burst onto the filmmaking scene. It has that electricity, and everyone in the theater felt it and knew that a powerful movement was continuing, gaining momentum.

On April 12, 2018, Sorry To Bother You screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) as the centerpiece of the festival. Writer and director Riley and actors Terry Crews and Jermaine Fowler were in attendance for a Q&A. Sorry To Bother You is a special film to the Bay Area and to the festival this year, as it is both where Riley is from and where the film takes place. There isn’t enough to articulate about Sorry to Bother You to do it justice as a work of art. The absurdist satire will be talked about by critics and film historians for years to come, undoubtedly.

Stick To The Script

That’s the motto at the telemarketing company that Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) works for. Well, audiences are in for a treat for sticking to Riley‘s brilliantly bonkers script in Sorry To Bother You. In a dystopian Oakland, Cassius becomes employed to impress his artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and pay his Uncle Sergio (Terry Crews) back.

Everything goes swimmingly at first until he realizes that being black is still frowned upon in the workplace. Langston (Danny Glover) explains to Cassius that, in order to be more successful in his telemarketing calls and make more sales, he needs to use his white voice. Langston demonstrates, comically channeling his inner Steve Buscemi, literally.

SFIFF Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: Purely Imaginative, Entirely Original, Wholly Entertaining

source: Annapurna Pictures

And so, by sticking to the script that his company gave him and by using his own white voice, channeling his inner David Cross, Cassius becomes a Power Caller, moving his way up the company. Allured by the massive paycheck offered to him by corporate, Cassius leaves his fellow comrades, among them Detroit and Squeeze (Steven Yeun) to fend for themselves as they struggle to unionize and protest against upper management. As Cassius moves up the ranks, his new boss, Mr. ______ (Omari Hardwick, white voice by Patton Oswalt), informs him that he is only allowed to speak in his white voice at all times.

There is a new, more valuable product that he now has to sell: people – more precisely – slaves.

Worry Free Corporation/Silicon Valley & Left Eye/Antifa

Cassius’ new client is the sinister Worry Free, a corporation that makes anything and everything, provides its workers with housing and food, and secures employment contracts for life. It is, as Left Eye activists call, a form of modern-day slavery. Left Eye, to which Detroit belongs, is a militant activist  group that protests Worry Free. Though there isn’t a direct parallel, in this sharp satire that is Sorry To Bother You, Left Eye draws many similarities to the activist group Antifa, which is a far-left, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti-white supremacist group that has a large following in the East Bay. What does that make Worry Free?

SFIFF Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: Purely Imaginative, Entirely Original, Wholly Entertaining

source: Annapurna Pictures

Worry Free is run by deranged, egomaniacal CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). The money-hungry coke-head will stop at nothing to increase productivity for his company. Lift has big plans for Cassius, who’s been promoted within his telemarketing company faster than anyone he’s seen before.

Worry Free is emblematic of Silicon Valley: they’re innovative, always striving to push efficiency, sometimes at any cost, and they’re driving out the native workforce by occupying their jobs and housing (much like what has happened to the fabric of the community of the Bay Area). The biggest battle lies between the workers of the telemarketing firm, and upper management at Worry Free.

Salience Is Golden

Throughout the entire film, a giant, militant labor strike looms over Cassius’ firm Worry Free. Written from 2011 to 2012, the labor strike, Left Eye, and Worry Free are just a few of the prescient and sociopolitically relevant pieces to the far-left anthem that is Sorry To Bother You. In this dystopia, television has been reduced to the most primal form of reality TV. The most popular show in the country is I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me, during which contestants get brutally beat up and humiliated for cash in front of 150 million viewers.

It’s a world where humiliation and subjugation wins. At one point during the strike, as Cassius tries to enter the building during the strike, he gets a soda can thrown at his head. Even the person who threw the soda can at his head becomes famous, signing on as the official spokesperson for the soda company. Cassius becomes a viral sensation, which allows him some notoriety to be able to expose some of his firm and Worry Free’s corporate corruption to the masses. Sure, the viral video is the most recurring joke in Sorry To Bother You, though it never loses its steam.

SFIFF Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: Purely Imaginative, Entirely Original, Wholly Entertaining

source: Annapurna Pictures

If there’s one message that the audience should take away from Riley‘s film, it’s that we are not living in a post-racial society. The black men can’t be themselves at a company run by white people. Oakland is depicted as this “gangster haven,” almost mystified by Hammer‘s Lift. There is a downside to technological innovation, human beings’ desire to push the envelope of what is possible. The quest to play god and be all powerful has its costs: sacrificing one’s own humanity.

Conclusion: Sorry, Boots Is Not Sorry

Forest Whitaker has been an integral part of this black filmmaking renaissance, producing Ryan Coogler‘s Fruitvale StationRick Famuyiwa‘s Dope, and Sorry To Bother You, among other prominent projects. At 105-minutes long, one might think Sorry To Bother You overstays its welcome. Quite the opposite. In fact, Riley keeps the film moving at such a brisk pace, that the viewer may barely have time to take a breath, let alone take a bathroom break, and that’s a good thing. I could have watched another hour of this enthralling feature debut.

Riley, frontman of the legendary hip-hop group The Coup, composes one of the most exciting scores to come out in the past decade. The toe-tapping, bass-humming, head-bopping music carries the film’s hasty pacing along flawlessly. Much like the themes in Sorry To Bother You, the Oakland group is known for critiquing capitalism, police brutality, and institutional white supremacy.

Inspired by his time as a telemarketer, Riley‘s Sorry To Bother You blends magical realism with science fiction and comical satire. The practical effects by ADI are impressive, and provides the movie with all the more ludicrousness. More than seven years in the making, this film was overwhelmingly worth the wait.

Sorry To Bother You is an intelligent, batshit crazy satire that offers plenty of the theater of the absurd, a standout performance from Lakeith Stanfield, the most original script of the past two years, and plenty of laughs and food for thought.

Are you a fan of The Coup’s concept album Sorry To Bother You? Are you looking forward to the film adaptation? What’s your favorite Lakeith Stanfield role?

Sorry To Bother You opens in the U.S. to a theatrical release on July 6, 2018. For more information on its release, click here.


Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

Subscribe to our newsletter


And get our cinematic goodness deliverd to your digital doorstep every Saturday!
* indicates required


Alex Arabian is a film critic, journalist, and freelance filmmaker. His work has been featured in the San Francisco Examiner, AwardsCircuit.com, and PopMatters.com. His favorite film is Edward Scissorhands. It goes without saying that not all films are good, per se, but he believes that he owes the artists contributing to the medium film analyses that are insightful, well-informed, and respectful to craft. Check out more of his work on makingacinephile.com!