Ever since his great debut in Short Term 12 (though his actual debut came years earlier in the short version of it), Lakeith Stanfield has been building up quite a resume. He’s registered notable roles in such diverse films as Selma, Dope, Straight Outta Compton, and Get Out while also having his star making performance as the best part of Atlanta. It was about time that he got his big break as a lead and Sorry to Bother You is here to deliver it. From writer/director Boots Riley, the lead of The Coup, the movie is based the album of the same name which he initially recorded as an alternative to making the movie.
Set in an alternative universe dystopian Oakland, Sorry to Bother You casts Stanfield as Cassius “Cash” Green, a broke man living out of his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend (Selma co-star, the always fantastic Tessa Thompson). Taking a job as a telemarketer, he struggles at first until advised (by Danny Glover who I’m pretty sure was cast just so he could say “he was too old for this shit”) to break out his white voice (the voice of David Cross). The “white voice” effect seems to be pretty poorly dubbed which may have been the intent, but it just made it look amateurish to me. His rising success is contrasted against the growing unrest of the society around him both realistic and more sci-fi in scope with even some magical realistic elements mixed in. Unrest that his friends including Thompson, Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), and Jermaine Fowler (Superior Donuts) have actively involved themselves in.
There’s an undercurrent of social satire throughout including a show that seems straight from the world of Idiocracy (both movies even share Terry Crews). It doesn’t all hit, particularly the stuff about that show, but for the most part, it is effective especially in the way it deals with race without having the characters consciously discuss it. It’s the best approach and yet one so few movies fail at because those scenes make for big dramatic scenes. The story is a bit shaggy and uneven at times, but it’s also bold and when it hits, it hits hard.
It’s also very funny which is a rather important thing for a comedy. A lot of that humor arises from the absurdity of it all, but the cast’s talent shines through. Stanfield especially acquits himself, maintaining the characters sympathy and humor no matter how weird or things get. Visually the film is constantly inventive, pulling in those surrealist elements and while I’m sure most of the attention will be on Thompson and her earrings, the styling and hairstyling in this was fantastic. Enough that I would notice it in a review and to help create the sense of larger than life characters. It’s all aided by a score by Tune-Yards which is atmospheric and understated.
If nothing else, Sorry to Bother You is worth seeing because there is nothing else like it out there. It’s certainly enough to excuse the rougher elements and the satirical misses. I wish I could discuss that satire that does work in greater detail but that quickly runs into the realm of spoilers with this film. Even beyond that, it’s an exciting movie that feels genuinely fresh.