18th Oct2018

LFF 2018: ‘Sorry to Bother You’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Kate Berlant, Michael X. Sommers, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, Robert Longstreet | Written and Directed by Boots Riley

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With Cassius Green’s (Lakeith Stanfield) newly discovered talent, it’s not long before he rises through the ranks of his company, moving closer to the inner circle of coke-snorting entrepreneur Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). But as Cassius soon discovers, Steve has some disturbing ambitions for him and the cost of success could be more than just alienation from both his colleagues and activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Bursting with ideas, visual panache and caustic wit, Riley acerbically lampoons office life and offers savage commentary on the young African-American experience. Joining a triumphant new wave of radical black cinema, Sorry to Bother You establishes Riley as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with.

Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is best described with a lack of a better word as “bizarre”. To really explain the most simplistic of plotting and structure would be to pierce the actual story and events that unfold, not necessarily the weakest aspect, but by far not the strongest trait of marketing that an audience could hope, that goes one way or another, which Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: 2049 found out the hard way. The double-crossing publicity and marketing do very little to hide the issues within Riley’s film on a viewing, with a lack of true substance and direction just a few aspects that evident.

Riley’s film simply bites off far too much than it can chew. Choking on the fat, rather than basking in the glory of serving up a delightful dish. It is this extra weight and spectacle that crushes Sorry to Bother You into a colossal mess of hectic and glib proportions. The story itself feels as if two ideas are melded together with very little cohesion. Two very distinctive palettes and perspectives of a story, one being avant-garde style and the other a mirroring of dramatic edge collide with an unsuccessful partnership. Made even more unfortunate is that the melding itself isn’t ingested from the get-go, for perhaps a more cohesive viewing. Instead, the twist of styles and artistic impression is introduced a third of the way through to a lacklustre effect.

Characters are unfortunately unlikeable and quite frankly annoying. All are far too deceitful or unimaginative to prosper in the eyes of the audience, not even contextually speaking do characters have arcs that are either inviting or emotionally investing, perhaps intentional considering the events that unfold, but a poor aspect of writing nonetheless.

That isn’t to say Riley’s film hasn’t got its positives. The sheer absurd energy his film propels is staggering. In every scene, the raw energetic obtuse nature is felt in abstract set design and vivid colour used from costume to lighting powers through with glorious intensity. The cast and voice talents used are also tremendous properties, once again reassuring any doubters of either that both Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield can just about grapple and perform in any genre thrown their way with a highlighting success.

Sorry to Bother You screened at the London Film Festival on October 11th, 12th & 14th 2018.

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