Since I first saw the trailer, Sorry To Bother You has been one of my most anticipated films, but one where a UK release, for a while at least, seemed a bit sketchy. It wasn’t as bad as Snowpiercer, which has only just got a UK release, but I was worried that it would be a while before I got to see this. Thankfully, the film has just been released over here so I was finally able to check it out and I have to say that this is one of the best dark comedies I’ve seen in a long time.
The film follows Cassius Green, an unemployed man living in his uncle’s garage in Oakland who, needing money, gets a job as a telemarketer. Initially struggling, he finds success when he finds his ‘white voice,’ which gives the people he’s calling a sense of entitlement and success. Using the white voice, he’s able to climb up the ranks of his company, getting involved in shadier sales, whilst at the same time neglecting his girlfriend, Detroit, and other friends in their efforts to form a union to get better pay. Now there is a lot more in the film but it’s best that you go in knowing as little as possible about the plot, especially with a revelation halfway through the film that really flips the film upside down. Now there is a lot of thematic weight to unpack in the film, starting with the way the employment sector dehumanises people, removing their identity. Cassius only being able to advance when adopting a ‘white voice,’ along with one character having all mentions of his name bleeped out, shows how the corporate world doesn’t value individuality, crushing people until everything that makes them a unique person is removed to make them more efficient workers, with this being more pronounced in the third act of the film. There’s also a lot of critique over the way people value corporations and how much of their lives are devoted to them, with a side plot of the film being that a company called WorryFree is offering lifetime employment with accommodation and food, this being for all intents and purposes slavery. It presents an interesting idea on how corporations could make slavery socially acceptable and even the economic conditions that could lead people to go into slavery voluntarily. This thread is one of the darkest things in the film, but also one that feels the most realistic given the conditions in the warehouses for companies like Amazon. Even with this deep thematic weight though, the film is still hilarious, a lot of it I can’t explain since it would spoil the film, but the whole tone of the film has this satirical edge that creates some great laughs, even in the darkest moments.
The performances really help to sell the film. Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius is excellent, showing a lot about his character development just through his body language, almost seeming to hide in himself at the start of the film before growing more confident, in the best and worst ways, with a growing paranoia. Given what happens with Cassius throughout the film, making him a character you still sympathise with even when he goes into more morally black areas is a hard task, but Stanfield pulls it off. Tessa Thompson as Detroit meanwhile is great, showing her anger over what Cassius does, but also how, through her work as an artist, she possesses a similar talent to Cassius, with there also being a fire in her through her activism. This sense of fire is also seen in Steven Yeun as Squeeze, who organises the union and strikes by the telemarketers, and his sense of confidence and skill with rhetoric (for the most part) shows how he is able to get so many people on side. Armie Hammer meanwhile plays the quintessential smarmy boss, showing himself to be deeply entitled and prejudiced, never valuing anyone as a person but as an image and a commodity, with the satire in the film coming through how society treats such a loathsome character. Entertaining work is also seen from Terry Crews (even if he is underutilised), Jermaine Fowler and Danny Glover, whilst there is a sense of tragedy in the body language of Omari Hardwick, showing how he has lost his whole identity, even his name. The casting of the white voices meanwhile is inspired. Since the film states that the white voice is the presentation of success and carefree affluence, the right white voices were needed and casting David Cross, Patton Oswalt and Lily James was perfect, all of them having the right kind of vibe for the description of the white voice.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. The way the film is directed and shot shows both the reality of like in Oakland now, but also a kind of fantasy element in the second half of the film. This is mainly enforced by the editing, with a lot of great shots with characters moving from one location to another just through changes in furniture in one shot, with the editing creating a smoothness to everything. The editing also does a great job at showing the ‘white voice’ always making it look overdubbed to show how unnatural it is. I also loved how the film visualises the telemarketing calls, with Cassius crashing into the rooms of the people he’s calling, which is great visual shorthand for the invasion of life and frustration that people feel with telemarketers. The production design is excellent as well, particularly in the contrast between the lives of the citizens of Oakland and the luxury of the rich, with a lot of great background details that help to build the world of the film more than any dialogue could (such as repeatedly seeing billboards for WorryFree and them getting defaced, and a game show called I Got the Shit Kicked Out Of Me, which is probably closest in tone to an American version of the stereotype of Japanese game shows).
Overall, Sorry To Bother You is a dark, twisted comedy that is probably one of the most important films of the year. So many elements of the film have this dark parallel to real life, in some cases the film was altered so it wasn’t too on the nose, but it never loses sight of the dark comedy, making this one of the funniest films of the year. There are a lot more elements I could have gone into about how the film deals with dehumanisation, but that would spoil the surprises in the film, so I’ll say to go and see it as soon as possible.
My Rating: 5/5