I make no apologies for saying Sorry to Bother You could be the new Get Out. It's not exactly a horror film and it's too out-there to achieve the mainstream box office success of Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning hit, but there are other big similarities. It's the work of a first-time director known for another medium, it's got Lakeith Stanfield in it, and most notably it uses fantastical elements to throw a grenade under very real social issues.
Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Sorry to Bother You is something of a Sundance success story. Rapper-turned-writer and director Boots Riley worked his way through the festival's filmmaking mentorship programs in previous years to become the toast of this year's event. His film was one of the most buzzed-about on this year's bill, and in a quiet year for distribution deals at the festival it was quickly picked up by Annapurna Pictures. It hit US theatres this summer and opens in the UK on 7 December. You'll be sorry if you don't seek it out, because this wildly ambitious and outrageous satire really needs to be seen to be believed.
The film is headlined by a trio of the past year's breakout stars. Alongside Lakeith Stanfield are Tessa Thompson from Thor: Ragnarok and Armie Hammer from Call Me By Your Name. Also on board are Terry Crews, Danny Glover, and Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, as well as a couple of bonkers voiceover cameos.
Lanky, likeable Stanfield is Cassius "Cash" Green, who discovers a talent for telemarketing and finds himself torn between loyalty to his fellow workers and an opportunity to grasp the brass ring of workplace success. The film opens in a stylised world of harsh reds and sickly yellows and office grotesques. It slowly spirals into an increasingly skewed parallel reality somewhere between the warped weirdness of Charlie Kaufman and the off-kilter visual flourishes of Michel Gondry -- before making a final leap into the utterly surreal.
It's packed with incendiary moments and provocative satire, blasting away at all manner of targets including but not limited to: the inhumanity of late-stage capitalism, corporate greed, police brutality, racial division, the sharing economy and Silicon Valley's headlong charge into the future.
The film deftly skewers the euphemisms of exploitation, euphemisms that rebrand working until you drop as an achievement and selling out your peers as getting ahead. The characters are tempted by signing away their lives to a corporation that owns them as essentially modern-day slaves, an indentured servitude euphemistically rebranded as becoming "Worry-Free".
In this scathing vision of modern free-market freebootery, each level of aspiration is revealed to be just another scam, whether it's an overcrowded VIP room in a bar or a workplace promotion that requires unspeakable sacrifice. And no matter how hard you work, no matter how much of yourself you give, it's never enough.
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This searing assault on the world of work culminates in an increasingly barmy turn from Armie Hammer as a sociopathic Silicon Valley CEO. He's the type of entrepreneur who genuinely thinks he's inventing a new world, a caricature of the disruption-happy tech bros who gave us such ill-thought-out ideas as Soylent, Juicero and Bodega.
With so many targets, it's inevitable that not all the film's scattershot satirical strikes find their mark. But there's so much vigour and invention -- and so many flat-out hilarious moments -- that it's hard not to be swept along by the demented ingenuity on display.
Sorry To Bother You hasn't had anything like the impact of Get Out in terms of box office, but it's easily going to stand up as one of the freshest and most unpredictable debuts of the year. Weird and unapologetic, it's very much worth the bother.
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