It’s safe to say there is a moment in Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU that completely changes the film — and, upon wide release, the audience reaction to it has been nothing less than divisive. SORRY is a provocative and uncompromising absurdist comedy that takes aim at several deserved targets; which is both its biggest strength and greatest weakness.
LaKeith Stanfield (GET OUT) stars as the on-the-nose-named Cassius Green, a struggling telemarketer who discovers the key to success is through the use of a friendly and disarming ‘white voice’. Green’s potential ascent up the corporate ladder comes with a huge price tag, of course, and SORRY shines a satirical, yet needed spotlight on everything from racial identities to cultural code-switching. Think Spike Lee-meets-Michel Gondry, and you might come close to understanding how Boots Riley approached this story.
Riley, an Oakland-based rapper and founding member of The Coup (who, in the summer of 2001, created the worst-timed album cover in history), makes his debut here as a director and screenwriter to mixed results. From the script, it’s clear that Riley loves taking risks and has the ability to become a major player down the road, but his ‘first-timerness’ behind the camera is on full display with a daring, but unfocused vision. A little restraint goes a long way, and here is a director whose ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach includes the damn sink.
Tessa Thompson, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and Jermaine Fowler round out an impressive supporting cast (if more so on paper), but it’s Armie Hammer’s charismatic turn as a coke-snorting billionaire CEO that nearly steals the show. While the rest of the characters are underdeveloped or stuck in plot threads that go nowhere, Hammer’s role has some meat to it, and he plays it to an almost-scary level of perfection. LaKeith Stanfield delivers another great performance, but the Atlanta actor is in serious danger of being typecast as ‘the weird, but cool brotha’.
While the first two acts of SORRY TO BOTHER YOU survive an uneven path, the aforementioned moment that changes everything is either going to ‘WOW’ you, or leave you feeling let down. In the hands of an experienced storyteller, SORRY’s impact would have been more substantial (and truly worthy of critical praise). As it is, the end result is a muddled, but imaginative and mostly enjoyable film that just fails to stick its landing.
Three out of Five Beers.