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A Magazine for Sheffield

Sorry To Bother You


Irritating, isn't it, when your phone rings with an unknown or anonymous number? More often than not, somehow a sales company has gotten a hold of your details and wants to sell you something that you never knew you needed. Switch positions and think what it must be like for the person on the other end of the line, whose income is based upon the commission of any sales. This is the basis for writer Boots Riley's directorial debut.

Trying to cram several issues, each of which could easily occupy its own film, into 111 minutes seldom works as a coherent piece. Sorry To Bother You falls foul of this, but it does highlight the fertile and imaginative mind of Boots Riley, its director.

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is a worker at a call centre who got the job by showing his initiative and ability to lie, qualities that some might say are ideal for a cold calling enterprise.

There is a delicious interplay between a co-worker (Danny Glover) and Cass about the art of distance selling, where no-one knows what you look like. He tells Cass, who is black, to "use your white man’s voice" over the phone. At that point, racial commentary seems likely, but that's not quite how the narrative develops.

A parallel theme highlights Cass’s relationship with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), an artist struggling to get her voice heard whilst remaining true to her roots. When Cass improves his ‘white man’s voice’ and wants the keys to the gold plated toilets as the money rolls in, his evolution to champagne socialist familiar to John Cooper Clarke - "It's my money and I'm not sharing it” – divides the couple and sets up a key question: should you stay true to you beliefs or move on and up, irrespective of the emotional cost?

Another captivating scene is between Cass and his cousin, Salvador (Jermane Fowler), during a workplace strike. Whilst Cass is trying to pass through the picket line that includes Salvador, the inevitable confrontation showcases verbal dexterity from both sides. They try to outdo each other with insults decorated as compliments, creating an almost Wildean effect.

The film’s sharp detour into sci-fi, horror and fantasy is just bemusing and led to at least two people walking out of the cinema.

Riley has delivered plenty of ideas and a lovely series of visual sketches, typified in the scene where Cass "phone called in" to his targets. Rather than a split screen arrangement, Cass appears in the space next to them creating a novel approach to ‘face timing’, irrespective of what they are doing with their partner. But hopefully his future ideas can be channelled into one film at a time.

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