Sorry to Bother You
11th October 2018 6.01pm at BFI Southbank
12th October 2018 2.15pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
14th October 2018 5.30pm at Vue West End
It’s hard to know what’s more striking about Boots Riley’s new film: the ludicrous absurdity of the world created or the fact that it’s so recognisable as a distorted yet not-so-distant mirror image of our own. Set in a dystopian alternate reality in which the face of slave labour is a baggy-trousered Armie Hammer (in one of his best roles to date) Sorry to Bother You is a blisteringly funny and deeply disturbing sci-fi satire with just enough truth to get right under your skin.
Cassias (Lakeith Stanfield) is desperate for cash, and when a spot comes up at the call centre, he’s not in a position to refuse. However, when a bigger opportunity arises that could save him financially, he has to make a choice: join his colleagues and revolutionary girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) on the picket line or accept the promotion that could cost him his soul.
In the hands of an incredible cast, this movie consistently hits the mark with every joke. Stanfield’s depiction of a warring conscience, a man struggling not to become a product of the system that oppresses him, is as compelling as it is excruciating to watch. A battle of passive aggressive politeness with best friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) is delivered to explosive effect. Thompson, on the other hand, brings her character to life with delightfully unapologetic rage. Terry Crews, Danny Glover and Stephen Yeun all put in noteworthy appearances as cogs struggling not to be crushed by the machine, while Hammer’s performance of the machine itself is positively horrifying – in the best way.
The film beats us senseless with all the big issues, and yet somehow tickles us with them at the same time. Racism, corporate greed and slave labour: this movie is utterly unflinching in it’s broaching of heavy themes, but the light tone afforded from an acutely observant and outrageously funny screenplay lulls us into a false sense of security. A particular triumph is the extension of the idea that in order to get ahead, it’s necessary to adopt a “white voice” (provided, in a genius bit of casting, by Patton Oswalt and David Cross). Somehow the squeaky-clean dubbing doesn’t stop being hilarious, and yet this running joke is a pointed reminder of the latent discrimination in America today. Scenes of police brutality on the news draw direct parallels to Black Lives Matter, while graphic game shows that depict senseless violence are somehow funny and frightening in equal measure.
A bright and bold colour palette lifts the film into a heightened reality. Stylistically, the movie plays like a grotesque fairytale, the costumes provocative (particularly when it comes to Thompson’s highly political wardrobe) and the scenes saturated with garish advertisements. After a video of a coke can to the head goes viral, Cassius wears a white bandage over a bleeding head wound, which slowly spreads, blushing redder and redder from scene to scene. This is one of the lasting images that sticks with you. It is when the credits roll and the laughter dissipates that the true power of the film and its message becomes clear: the nightmare continues into our own reality.
Sorry to Bother You is released nationwide on 7th December 2018.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Sorry to Bother You here: