Sorry to Bother you was an appropriate theme for the night when I attended the Los Angeles preview screening of the film.
I had been waiting for this premiere for weeks. A Sundance favorite, Boots Riley would be accepting the Sundance Vanguard award, presented by Rosario Dawson - and it was a fundraiser. But what piqued my interest the most was the description of it being sci-fi/fantasy. I watched the trailer to make sure I had the right Sorry to Bother You. Comedy, sure. Sci-fi? Consider me intrigued.
Unfortunately, I had broken my foot and at one point didn’t leave my apartment for nine days straight. I knew making the arduous journey to Downtown LA was going to be a sacrifice of comfort. With a boot, swollen foot,and some crutches, my uber driver dropped me off at the Ace Hotel Theatre to a line that wrapped all the way around the corner.
“You’re a hero,” my driver jokingly told me. And then he drove off.
I hobbled to the front of the line, made up of a diverse, young audience, the kind that reminds you that the future is now (and bonus: the future is also incredibly stylish) and we are going to be ok.
“Sorry to bother you,” I said to one of the event organizers. She took one look at my leg and immediately opened the rope to let me in.
I crutched my way in through the crowd and was helped to a seat in the reserved section, meant for Danny Glover, Patton Oswalt, and others in the film who attended that night but also apparently for people like me hobbling on crutches. The event coordinators wore signature Sorry to Bother You earrings from the film, designed and worn by Tessa Thompson’s character, Detroit.
It’s an overused descriptor, but there really was an electric sense of excitement in the theater. Boots Riley, who started out as a musician with Hip-Hop group the Coup, started writing the screenplay in 2011 and now seven years later the finished film has been released. We watched a short video of the process Riley went through at Sundance, where he workshopped the script at their labs (after being told by director Richard Ayoade “Not only will I not direct this, but I’m going to insist nobody else should direct this but you,”). A split-screen view that showed test footage from Sundance side-by-side with the finished film was also a glimpse into the long-term dedication and hard work that went into not only honing Riley’s craft but staying the course and seeing the film to completion.
Rosario Dawson presented Riley with the Vanguard award and then he spoke to the crowd about his process, his years as a musician - a career path he chose over remaining in film school - and his return to movies. He was overwhelmingly grateful for the work at Sundance and everyone who had helped him - especially for a film that takes so many risks.
Speaking of risks, sorry to bother you - but this film is batshit crazy in the best possible way. It takes a lot to learn the rules of filmmaking. And it’s a whole other thing to then break those rules apart - something Boots Riley is already known for in his music.
Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Get Out) plays Cassius Green who learns how to use his ‘white voice’ to get ahead in his telemarketing job. His bosses tell him to “stick to the script,” one of the many moments where the film informs us it’s going to do the opposite. Dealing with issues of racism and classism, it also tackles ideas of dismantling corporate America, the toll capitalism has taken on society and the decisions Cassius (who becomes ‘Cash’ Green) has to make to either further his career, class standing,and income, or try to help make everyone else’s lives better for the greater good, not just his own.
There are so many wild elements at play, from the way Riley filmed the telemarketing scenes with Cassius crashing into people’s homes, to the game show where contestants take a beating to win money, to the lengths Detroit will go for her independent, anti-capitalist, black power ideals, suffering for her art as cell phones are thrown at her body onstage. Suffering is a constant in this comedy satire whether for art or for better working conditions. We’re constantly reminded of it by the literal blood-stained bandage Cassius wears on his head for the whole second half of the movie.
Fresh off the million and a half awards and press tour for his role in Call Me By Your Name, Armie Hammer plays Steve Lift, a Steve Jobs type guru if Jobs had been a forever-frat-bro-psychopath. We’re first introduced to Lift by an enormous line of blow he snorts that is so long and ridiculous it had everyone in the audience laughing before we even saw his face. As the CEO of WorryFree, he provides housing and food to those who sign lifelong labor contracts - and give up their autonomous individual freedoms. He takes an unusual interest in Cassius.
And that’s when it takes such a wild turn in the second to third acts you might wonder if you’re still watching the same movie. Yes, you are. And it is brilliant.
With everything we’re dealing with in politics, society and the world today, a film like this that can take a stand, make bold statements and also make us laugh at the absurdity of it all is a gem. The cast, with Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Terry Crews, Danny Glover and Armie Hammer jump into these roles and this twist-filled story with total reckless enthusiasm and dedication. Popcorn. Crutches. I’m there.
As I hobbled back out of the theater that night, there was a murmuring and an energy around me. This film is part of the new future, the new wave, a moment of hope that even though things have been a little scary lately there are artists like Boots Riley using his voice to make sure we don’t all end up at companies like WorryFree. The film gives us a much-needed different perspective and challenges us - while also blowing our damn minds (again, see: sci-fi). I have a deep, mad respect for a film that can surprise me.
Sorry to Bother You - but this is a film you need to see.
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