Boots Riley’s absurdist, pitch-black satire may just end up becoming one of the most important and resonant films of our time. Not because its concerned particularly with the topical venality of Trumpism and the ongoing corruption of western political discourse but because it looks beyond these deplorable but ultimately transient phases at the bigger societal picture and savages the superficiality of a social media-driven world sleepwalking into a voluntary corporatocracy.
In a not-too-alternate reality Oakland, California, telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finds himself living an increasingly bizarre existence after he discovers the magical key that leads to material success. As Green’s career begins to take off, he leaves his friends behind as they attempt to unionise in the face of increasingly poor working conditions and he soon comes to the attention of Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), a cocaine-snorting CEO POS who offers him an opportunity to earn a salary beyond his wildest dreams but at a terrible price.
Riley’s film immediately feels off-kilter, wild and unpredictable but, centred on a charismatic turn from Lakeith Stanfield and a radiant performance from Tessa Thompson, the arch weirdness feels enticing rather than alarming. There’s a breezy seductiveness to the way you’re sucked into this almost familiar world and everything feels disturbingly plausible even as it amuses.
It nails one of the single most important statements for the world we live in now with the force and significance of Martin Luther nailing his theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church when one of the characters, almost carelessly, sums up modern society thus: if you get shown a problem, but have no idea how to control it, then you just decide to get used to the problem.
It’s a shocking slap to the psyche as it lays bare the truth of humanity’s inability to grapple with the serious issues of the day. “Sorry To Bother You” is a searing critique of monolithic corporations and their increasingly insidious control over every facet of daily lives, the real cost of avarice and the pursuit of unbridled wealth and the ease to which we can be distracted by the superficial and ephemeral trappings of social media celebrity, becoming complicit in our own indenturisation. It then goes one better by proving its point by undercutting its own thematic messages by distracting us with enormous floppy horse dicks, because it’s not only keenly intelligent, insightful and critical, it’s also freaking hilarious.
As the world and society spin ever more out of control, the film’s energy matches it, meaning it takes some peculiar leaps into the bizarre, the weird and the flat-out horrific but its trippy, manic denouement fits it perfectly even if it may feel jarringly left-field for some.
Farcical and fantastical, savage yet soulful, “Sorry To Bother You” lingers long after the final credits roll. If it, and everything it speaks to, doesn’t bother you on some level, then I really am sorry.