(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 41
4.5 out of 5 🐙
The summer of 2018’s most talked about indie movie starts with a forceful and accusatory voiceover: act like you’re white; no problems, hope, don’t need the money. It’s both a fair and unfair assault. Certainly there are poor whites who don’t reflect that state. But it’s fair in that this country, race does provide unequal benefits to white people and a much harder mountain to climb for people of color, particularly black people.
I watched this movie when it first came out in the summer of 2018. The same summer saw the release of Blindspotting, another bravura commentary on race in American and interestingly enough, set in Oakland. But I’m only now writing my thoughts and they are appropriately colored by the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and social upheaval.
Sorry to Bother You is a surreal urban horror fairy tale set in the struggle of marginalized people. It happens to be in the Bay Area but it could be set in almost any city in the United States. It is twisted magic realism. The protagonist of the film, a down on his luck black man named Cassius Green (not accidentally far from ‘cash green’) who takes a telemarketing job to survive and soon finds he is quite adept at selling the snake oil. He is promoted to the top quickly and on the way he abandons the people he used to be part of. It is not a new story to see a person make it big and abandon where he came from. But Cassius is not a simple sellout. Boots Riley expertly directs the story (and writes as well) to show that Cassius’ corruption is not simple or entirely his fault. But he also does not make him a weak victim either. He has agency.
The ending is so bizarre and surreal that I don’t want to comment on it here. But I will say that the absurd revelation at the end goes to Boots Riley’s overall message: the elites will use the rest of us as tools. They are only concerned with their own power and status and the humanity of those they feel are below them is nonexistent and certainly not important. The fact that these elites represent unimaginable interests just shows that even if the principles beggars the imagination, the conceit of power abusing the powerless remains.
It is a remarkable film shouldered by Riley’s skill and LaKeith Stanfield’s astounding performance. He is buffeted by solid supporting actors but his transformation from idealist to surrealist is a master class in characterization.
Cassius is brave at the end but…I can’t say…it will bother you.
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)