Exploding with infectious originality, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You may be the most wonderfully bizarre film of 2018. It might be a bit unfair to compare the Bay Area rapper-turned-filmmaker to other directors when he’s so clearly on his own trip, but if you dig the handmade surrealism of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry or the antiestablishment weirdness of Repo Man, then this one is undoubtedly for you.
Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield stars as a down-on-his-luck Oakland striver named Cassius Green who takes an entry-level job as a telemarketer to scrape together enough money to live in his uncle’s garage with his performance-artist girlfriend, Detroit (a luminous Tessa Thompson). But rather than getting stuck in another dead-end gig, Cassius immediately vaults to the top of the ladder after adopting a “white voice” (courtesy of David Cross) on the phone. Soon, he’s anointed as a “power caller,” riding a golden elevator up to the corporate penthouse, where he cozies up to the backslapping, sarong-wearing CEO (a deliriously tongue-in-cheek Armie Hammer).
Cassius’ newfound success and the ridiculous perks that come with it lead to an existential crisis, pitting his keeping-it-real black identity against his bougie new whitewashed one. And Stanfield, with his dazed, deadpan delivery, invites you into the absurdity of his can’t-win dilemma. If all of this sounds…odd, then I’ve done my job. Still, it pales next to the wiggy, WTF flights-of-fancy detours Riley has up his Marxist merry-prankster sleeve. Sorry to Bother You is a timely, scalpel-sharp social satire with big laughs and even bigger ideas — probably a few more ideas than it can juggle. But when you’re taking as many daredevil risks as Riley is, you deserve the benefit of the doubt. A-