Boots Riley’s life has always been steeped in politics. Even from a young age, born into a family of social justice campaigners and witnessing first-hand the government’s neglectful treatment of African Americans, the adolescent Riley went on to join several radical leftist groups such as the Progressive Labor Party. It is no surprise then that his debut feature, ‘Sorry to Bother You’, gives a very firm two fingers to the establishment, aided by a truly bizarre, lucid style.
Cassius ‘Cash’ Green (Stanfield) lives in his uncle’s garage, frustrated with his life and prospects.
When a job opening comes up with the shady telecommunications company RegalView he grabs the opportunity with both hands, quickly being thrown into the murky world of big business.
On his first day, an old telemarketer (a great small cameo from Danny Glover) tells him to use his ‘white voice’ to get better sales, the result is very funny but its message is just as strong.
To succeed in America you have to change who you are and leave your ideals behind, especially if you are black.
Riley does not pussyfoot around such big messages, showing a grim, warts and all look, at the current state of America and its treatment of minorities.
However it is not just the faceless rich who are the target here, it is everyone, as Riley makes it very clear that we are all complicit in how the world now is and are as much to blame as any for looking the other way.
This satirical approach, in other hands, may have been a grim watch but Riley’s script is excellent, chocked full of outlandish humour and visuals giving this film a very modern, unique and refreshing twist. Stanfield, one of my favourite young actors, is great again here as the zoned out Cash, a perfect companion for the viewer to enter into the mad cap world we are about to encounter.
The dryness of his wit and nonplussed reactions to the constant onslaught of unusualness gives the film many of its laughs.
The supporting cast are also good, Tessa Thompson, as Cash’s artist girlfriend Detroit, gives Riley another target, the excessive and pretentious nouveau riche art world - it may be like shooting fish in a barrel, but a scene involving her new exhibition is a real highlight.
My only issue with the film is that it probably tries to do too much in its running time, with the last hour being so frenetic that it is a little overwhelming, and difficult to follow exactly what’s going on.
Despite this it is a very clever, funny and, at times, worrying look at our modern world, helped by Riley’s unique, singular vision.
I’ll be looking forward to see what his next film produces.