'Sorry to Bother You' Review

Capitalism is, like, bad or something

'Sorry To Bother You' / IMDB
July 13, 2018

After looking up show times for the film on my 128GB iPhone 6, I headed over to the Mosaic District in Fairfax and parked underneath an apartment complex where one-bedroom units start at $1,856 a month. I prefer it to the garage attached to Mosaic's Target (2017 annual revenue: $69.5 billion) because the dining options are so much more delightful on this end of the shopping center: I can practically taste Brine's sea scallops ($26); I pine for a glass of Sho Chiku Bai Nigori sake ($18) at Iron Chef House. No time for that, though, since the movie was starting in mere minutes at the Angelika Mosaic, my favorite theater in the region thanks to its eclectic mix of indie and mainstream offerings, fine dining options, and superb screening rooms. The Angelika is nestled in a neighborhood on the edge of D.C.'s beltway where three bedroom/three bath townhouses generally sell in the high-600s to high-700s, with some of the fancier units cracking seven figures. After bounding the Angelika's stairs and buying my $10 ticket, I was faced with my most important choice yet: which red wine should I drink while watching this evening's entertainment?

One Hope Merlot ($11.04, with tip) in hand, I settled into my reserved seat nearby my fellow yuppies and readied myself for Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley's critically acclaimed film about how capitalism is bad, actually.

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) needs work: He's four months behind on his rent to his uncle and he can't put more than 40 cents into his gas tank at a time. He's so desperate for a gig that he lies about his résumé to get a position at RegalView, a telemarketing firm hocking encyclopedias and other fine leather-bound books to people who don't need them and won't read them.

Riley shoots Green's telemarketing efforts with an amusingly light touch, literally dropping him into the homes of his potential customers: a woman whose husband is dying of cancer, a man eating dinner, a lady moaning in pleasure. The effect is to highlight the intrusive nature of capitalism at its most crass; he is invading these people's private spaces, their private moments.

Worse than that, at least from the perspective of RegalView, he's not very good at it. Not until he embraces his "white voice," that timbre and looseness that puts potential customers at ease. The power of whiteness compels people to buy from Cassius—and buy and buy and buy. Soon he's promoted to the position of "power caller," which puts him at odds with friends Squeeze (Steven Yeun) and Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), as well as his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Squeeze, Salvador, and Detroit are trying to start a union in the hopes of receiving a higher wage from their corporate overlords.

I don't want to discuss much more of the plot—you truly are better off going into it blind—other than to say Armie Hammer steals the show as the head of a business whose labor practices make Foxconn look like a model employer. Instead, I'd like to focus on the overall tone of the picture, which calls to mind Robocop, Time Bandits, Bamboozled, and, perhaps most clearly, O Lucky Man! Lindsay Anderson's fantasy about the compromises one must make with one's own principles (and the natural order itself) in order to succeed in a capitalist society.

Riley's dark comedy, which riffs on our substitution of memes for culture and acceptance of reality TV's degradation in exchange for true art, rarely devolves into mere hectoring. And even when the film does hector its audience—as during a performance art piece by Detroit in which she is pelted by cell phones while bemoaning the despoliation of Africa—it's so absurd that you can't help but think we're supposed to consider the whole thing ludicrous. Besides, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for anti-capitalist messaging released within the mega-capitalist system of film distribution. Funny is funny and Sorry to Bother You is often quite funny, and there's something so impotent about the whole enterprise that it's not worth getting on your high horse about it after the fact.

Still, Sorry to Bother You gave me much to consider as I jotted down thoughts about capitalism in my Moleskine notebook ($19.95) with my Pilot G-2 07 ($24.99 per dozen pens). Capitalism is truly reaching a breaking point, I thought, musing about the worsening state of our polity while sliding behind the wheel of my car and firing up the Bluetooth connection to my phone that gives me access to virtually all the music that has ever been recorded. Hopefully someone can come along and fix this horrible mess we've found ourselves in.

Published under: Movie Reviews