SORRY TO BOTHER YOU are the words one often hears on the telephone when called by an annoying telemarketer. Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfiled) has just landed the job as one after an interview where he is discovered for bringing in fake trophies and prizes. He is told that one only needs to read and come to work with a smiling face to get a job. But one has to stick to the script (STTS), the most important motto and one that is pinned everywhere in notices around the office cubicles.
The film is set in an alternate present-day version of Oakland, where Cassius is having a rough life—living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and struggling to find a job. Strapped for cash and desperate, he lands a position as a telemarketer, but has difficulty getting people to listen to him—until he discovers a magical key (introduced to him by a fellow telemarketer played by Danny Glover) to customers’ attention: using his “white voice”. David Cross does Cassius’ white voice. Cash quickly rises to the top of the telemarketing hierarchy, but risks losing sight of his morals as he achieves greater and greater success.
Things get crazier when Squeeze (Steven Yeun) organizes a strike. But Cassius is singled out to become a power seller. He gets to meet the big guy, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and begins working in a stranger environment when the film becomes weirder and weirder as a satire. Nods are given to the George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where Boxer the horse is a hard, tireless worker but eventually turned into glue when unable to work any longer.
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is a complex satire that obviously had a lot of work put into it. When Cassius gets to work in his cubicle reading his script to a customer in a home, Cassius literally drops into the homes and catches them in odd positions including making love.
The film contains no real insightful message of things that people do not already know. Besides having really impressive sets and art direction, and really hard effort put, the film is a mixed mess. One has to complement the superb coordination of work by the set and art director and writer/director Boots Riley. Riley follows the company’s motto of sticking to his script though diverting into surrealism as much as opportunities arise. One thing to be learnt from this effort is that there need be some order in the creation of a satire on disorder.
For all that has been described this overlong feeling film running at 105 minutes feels really boring for the first 30 minutes or so, as Riley sets up the stage for his satire. His film then kicks into action and pretty crazy action at that.
Though Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU might be a textbook example of maximum effort and minimum results, one cannot help but give the man (who is supposed to be an activist, musician and artist) credit for trying. It is this trying and effort that gives his film the most pleasure.