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“Sorry to Bother You” exposes the wiles of pretense


Tessa Thompson plays Detroit, an artist girlfriend to Cassius “Cash” Green wonderfully played by Lakeith Stanfield. (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; R for pervasive profanity, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and drug use; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube

Best extra: Commentary by writer/director Boots Riley

CASSIUS GREEN is flat broke. He lives in his uncle’s garage in Oakland, CA, with his artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) would do just about anything to get a job, including to blatantly lie about his past work history, as when he applies at Regal View, a sprawling telemarketing company. But even after his deception is busted – or maybe because of it – he’s hired.

At first, all his phone calls (each of which begins, “Sorry to bother you…”) result in slammed-down receivers. It’s only after Langston (Danny Glover), in the adjacent cubicle, gives him advice that Cassius’s luck, and life, change drastically. You gotta use your “white voice” to make a sale, Langston instructs. And, sure enough, when Cassius begins sounding like Eddie Haskell from “Leave it to Beaver” (dubbed by the wonderful David Cross) he becomes a star at Regal View.

Meanwhile, another employee (Steven Yeun) has been organizing the workers to revolt for decent pay and benefits; we learn about an evil organization called Worry Free, run by a young tycoon (Armie Hammer) and staffed by virtually captive slave labor; and Detroit joins an anarchist protest movement. So while Cassius is promoted upstairs to Regal View’s “Power Callers” luxurious office suite, and becomes rich by promoting their top client (the nefarious Worry Free), his and Detroit’s friends and co-workers are fighting the good fight (against all of the above).

Steven Yeun plays Squeeze, who has been organizing the workers to revolt for decent pay and benefits.

Written and directed by music producer and singer Boots Riley, his first feature is a thoroughly entertaining – by turns hilarious and horror-movie horrifying – trip down a progressively surreal rabbit hole, as well as a scathing social commentary.

This 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray is a treat to behold. In addition to its often surreal effects, super-saturated color, and many low-light scenes, fine detail is evident in all close-ups. The soundtrack is also excellent, showcasing music by Riley’s band “The Coup” as well as a great score by Tune-Yards. Sound effects are well-balanced and dialogue is very clear, but optional subtitles are offered.

Extras include a 12-minute interview with Riley and a photo gallery. Riley’s commentary is exactly what it should be. He avoids telling viewers what they already know and gives all sorts of information about how and why he did what he did. Riley talks about the advice and help he received via Sundance’s directors’ lab; many scenes were first tested there.

Cassius “Cash” Green and Armie Hammer is Steve Lift, a coke-sniffing imbecile rich boy.

He calls Stanfield (“Get Out!”; “Atlanta”) a “crazy dude” whose “vulnerability and openness” made him the perfect actor to “take us on this journey.” Riley says he “needed to highlight the humanity in his characters,” and points to Cassius’ “existential crisis,” as something not typically shown with actors of color.

Riley, an Oakland native, points out the scores of local friends, family and locations he used in the film. He explains his choices for frequent camera wipes and fast pans: “I wanted the pacing to feel like a comic book.” He also (laughingly) boasts of having “the first high-five montage in cinema history.”

In addition to David Cross’s voice, Patton Oswalt’s is dubbed for another African American “Power Caller”; Lily James’ is heard as Detroit’s during an art performance; Rosario Dawson’s is used as the computer voice in the golden-doored elevator to the Power Caller offices, and Forest Whitaker provides the voice of another character (not identified here, because doing so would be a spoiler). Riley says that the FX artists responsible for those in “Alien vs. Predator” also did work in “Sorry …” He notes that every main character in the film is “like me in certain ways.”

When discussing the messages in the film, Riley sees a clear responsibility for those who create, including filmmakers: “If you’re an artist and you just expose what the problem is, but not connecting it to how we can change stuff, we’re just adding to it. The key is to have a way to change it, or join with the folks who are trying to change things.”

— Peggy Earle




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