Demonizing telemarketers seems easy; who wants to take their calls? Who hasn’t been interrupted as the wrong time? Yet in “Sorry to Bother You,” Boots Riley manages to humanize and hero-ize a man newly initiated into the lying ways of the stick-to-the-script company in an alternate universe in Oakland.
Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is not an honest man.The car he drives is a multi-colored, smoking clunker and he brings fake awards to his interview, but although easily found out, the job requirements are simple: He can speak English and he can read. He’s hired by RegalView, a company that obviously doesn’t hold honesty as a core value.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have deep thoughts. He ponders the mysteries of life, wondering when the sun will explode and all life will end, when others are more concerned with practical matters. His girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) twirls a sign but makes protest art. Cassius is living in his uncle’s garage and four months behind on rent.
At first, he doesn’t have much luck with this “Sorry to bother you” script until an older black co-worker (Danny Glover), clues him in. Black people need to find their white voice and that’s not the voice that real white people talk with, but the voice that they wish they had or want to believe they sound like. Danny Glover’s “white voice” is supplied by Steve Buscemi and Stanfield’s by David Cross. Eventually Detroit joins him and finds her own “white voice,” supplied by Lily James.
Talking on the phone, even with split screens can be visually boring and Riley punches up our interest by literally dropping our Cassius into the scenario. In some cases, he’s not interrupting anything but fails to find human feeling but in other cases, his call is a case of coitus interruptus.
Cassius becomes a super-star but the other telemarketers aren’t so lucky and there’s some agitation to unionize, led by Squeeze (Steven Yeun), who seems suspiciously like a professional agitating unionizer. Cassius listens, but he hears another siren song. There are two tiers of workers and Cassius gets called upstairs, where the employees wear suits and ride in a private golden Art Deco elevator that requires a long code. Upstairs there are no cubicles and the feel is streamlined modern elegance. He’s not the only black person there; Mr. Blank (Omari Hardwick) preceded him (white voice supplied by Patton Oswalt), but Cassius has even better numbers.
In this version of the United States, instead of prison slave labor, people voluntarily go into WorryFree for dormitory-like housing and hard manufacturing work because they can have three square meals and constant work worry-free. Of course, there is a connection between RegalView and WorryFree. Cassius eventually meets the CEO, played with disarming smarminess by Armie Hammer and that’s when things take a turn toward science fiction.
“Sorry to Bother You” does have some gratuitous nudity to help excite the audience, but despite that, Riley manages to skewer everyone and bring a fresh and funny perspective to his social commentary. “Sorry to Bother You” premiered at Sundance this year and will be released 6 July 2018.