Boots Riley’s brilliant, take-no-prisoners comedy skewers social norms, racial strife and the media – then things get really weird
Oakland-based rapper Boots Riley scores a knockout debut as a director with Sorry to Bother You, a no-mercy satire that gets up in your face, breaks all the rules – and then invents new rules so it can break them too. Did you expect any less from the leader of the politically conscious, never-less-than-incendiary hip-hop collective the Coup?
Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Atlanta) nails it as Cassius Green, an African-American telemarketer who gets nowhere until he’s told by a colleague (Danny Glover, no less) to use his more salable white voice (David Cross provides the vocal mayo). Suddenly, the young man is rolling in green. He is finally able to move out of his apartment – actually, it’s a garage own by his uncle (Terry Crews) – and start living large with his artist-activist girlfriend, Detroit (the super-terrific Tessa Thompson)
Think you know where this is going? Guess again. Cassius is soon crossing a picket line formed by his striking co-workers and getting hit upside the head with a soda can, an image that soon goes viral and gets the nonstop meme treatment. But by turning his white voice into bank, Cassius gets to quickly move up the corporate ladder. He joins the elite on the top floor, selling a form of 21st-century labor slavery called Worry Free Living, run by sarong-wearing, orgy-throwing CEO Steve Lift (a gonzo Armie Hammer going bugfuck in ways that you cannot imagine – trust us).
That’s when Riley shifts into a cuckooland of sci-fi and horse-DNA experimentation – surreal is too fragile a word to describe what happens next. It’s also the point when you realize that Riley is a filmmaker who’s flying on his own visionary fumes and is the sort of singular talent who’s capable a ferociously funny kick in the ass to capitalism. Sorry to Bother You introduces a filmmaker in a creative fever. Summer has found its real fireworks. Burn, baby, burn.
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