Sorry to Bother You presents a uniquely absurd story about finding meaning in a racially and economically unjust world. What appears on the surface as biting satire transforms into a thrilling but radical sci-fi about our rights as workers and as humans.
Centered in an alternate-reality present day Oakland, Sorry to Bother You tells the story of Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who after discovering the key to telemarketing success rockets up the corporate ladder and is swallowed into a world of corporate greed. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and his friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) attempt to organize the telemarketers Cassius once worked with and protest against the corporation Worry-Free, which specializes in providing modern-day slave labor to other companies.
The movie opens with Cassius landing his much-needed job in telemarketing and being told to just “stick to the script.” For the first half of the film, characters seem to follow this role, as we move through the daily life of Cassius and his coworkers in their attempts to get by. In between these scenes, we see Cassius struggle with this reality and attempts to find meaning with his life, his seriousness matched by quick humor of the rest of the characters and the absurdities of his supervisors.
One of the things that stands out in this movie is the delicacy of the script. Every line seems intentional, holding multiple meanings and references to different parts of the movie and keeping viewers on their toes. Questions are left open and unanswered to reflect the broadness of their applications from different characters, scenes, and ultimately to our own lives. Ideas are presented only briefly for their meanings to be revealed halfway through the film. And, of course, the satire of the film is hilarious. Sorry to Bother You at times feels more like a book than a movie, and you will leave the cinema wanting to re-watch it over and over to fully understand its meaning.
The uniqueness of the script is matched equally by the color of its characters and the strength of these performances by their actors. These capture the audience into the weirdness of the movie and the plight of Cassius and his friends. Cassius’s hesitation and weariness make his silences speak volumes, while the strong and bold presence of Detroit dominates all scenes she is in. Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) perfectly balances his uniquely manactical charisma while embodying the masculine corporate genius found at the upper echelons of every company in America. As a couple, Detroit and Cassius provide a chemistry that gives a focal point for the movie to gravitate around a revolving door of characters and surprising twists.
Halfway through, the movie dives headfirst into an abyss of crazy. But by then, for those willing follow Cassius through this twist, the wildly absurd continues to be incredibly engaging. As the movie reaches its climax, the intensity of this nonsensical reality is somehow both thrilling and hilarious at the same time. Despite all the craziness, the movie still manages to be grounded in its messages, and the fantastical world of Cassius still manages to feel more real than any other movie I’ve seen this past year. It remains forward and unapologetic to what it reflects on our own world and forces us to contend with its presentation of racial and economic injustice.
Granted, for some, the sudden change in the plot and pace of the movie is too great a leap. However intentional it was, the transition from witty satire to science fiction feels jarring and unexpected, which may alienate some viewers. For that reason, not everybody will be willing to continue engaging with the movie, and will walk away feeling a loss of potential. To these viewers, I urge you to give this movie a chance.
Sorry to Bother You presents a world that exposes both the racial and economic reality of our country and a radically different vision of what our country could be like. The script and its performance create a thrilling and wild roller coaster that will spin around your worldview and leave you dizzy but excited for more.
Sorry to Bother You is playing at Cornell Cinema Friday, October 12, at 9:30pm, Saturday, October 13, at 9:20pm and Sunday, October 14, at 7:00pm.
Michelle Goldberg is a junior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.