Tuesday 18 December 2018

Film: 'Sorry to Bother You'

I found most of the first half of this really good, with a fair share of smiles raised plus a couple of chuckles. Unfortunately, somewhere towards the middle it all goes off-tangent bizarre, and, for some like me, very disturbing, as well as it floundering in a lack of directorial discipline.
There's also a strong resonance with one of my all-time 50 favourite films, viz Lindsay Anderson's 'O Lucky Man' (1973). Pity that though this present film has the aspiration and imagination to emulate it, it can't compete with the assured touch of the earlier, and it fatally lacks 'O Lucky Man's' neat (though admittedly over-self-referential) conclusion. 

In this, Lakeith Stanfield (from 'Get Out', 'Selma') plays a rookie telephone salesman (in Oakland, Ca.), or telemarketer, as apparently they're now called, who only took the job as he was desperate for anything. Tessa Thompson, with ghastly over-sized ear-ornaments and a co-worker, supplies his bed-interest. (Who she? Precisely). Working alongside dozens of others in large open-plan office, Stanfeld soon finds out that he can't make any sales (was it of insurance?) because when his voice is heard it sets up a resistance in the person being cold-called who'll then hang up on him or argue into being incapable of concluding a deal. A sympathetic work colleague of relatively advanced age (Danny Glover) advises him that he'd have more success if he spoke with a 'white man's voice', and he finds he has a ready aptitude to do just that. (We can accept that when he mouths words in this film [actually he and one other] it's really another white actor's voice on the soundtrack, but one goes along with the conceit). It's odd that having been shown several instances of him having been cold-shouldered on early calls with his 'normal' voice we are not given any examples of when his luck turns around and he starts successfully closing sales. But we are told this is so and as a result of his effectiveness he gains promotion to the prestigious position of 'power caller' with pay and status of which he'd never dreamed. So up to this point it's all been quite entertaining. Then during an encounter with his ultimate boss (Armie Hammer) who offers him a line of coke, a jarring jolt of weirdness takes over. Was he hallucinating? This surreal backdrop dominates the remainder of the film (also taking in workers' militancy and demonstrations) when he finds out that the firm is engineering a most disturbing societal shift in its workers, with sights on wider application. A couple of audience members managed to continue laughing through this remainder of the film, which I think we were meant to. 
Additionally, there's a highly popular TV show which will raise a few eyebrows, in which contestants get humiliated by being physically beaten up. 

At least one magazine review calls the film "hilarious" but I wasn't anywhere near as amused. In fact the whole experience left me with an unwelcome aftertaste.  

This is Boots Riley's first full-length feature and he's also the writer of this. He's to be congratulated on his imagination without doubt. Although there is the evocation for me of that British film of 45 years ago, Riley himself may well not be aware of it, and even if he is this new one is not overly derivative. I'm sure that he's achieved in putting on the screen very much what he had in mind. 

The film has generally been well-received (just look at ratings below!), even rapturously in some quarters. My own failure to go along with it is very much a personal reaction, and your own take may be 180 degrees different to mine. If I'd never seen 'O Lucky Man' and consequently not had such a high regard for that film I might have been more amenable to having had a positive view on this new release. Sadly, it's not so..................5.

(IMDb.....................7.0 / Rott. Toms...............7.7 )


  1. I thought it was quite fun. I was obviously in the right mood for it that day. I thought the white man's voice was all part of the fun and it was meant to be obvious that it wasn't his voice. I think you needed to loosen up a bit Ray.

    1. I thought it was going to be frothily light-hearted - and as I say, I absolutely liked the first few scenes or more. However, it seems that the discomfort I felt on the story's progress has by-passed many others. I've seen many a film which has affected me more but I really did feel that this went to a dark place I would rather not have visited - and so unexpected too. I'd been immensely looking forward to see this, though as it turned out I was worrying creeped out. I'm trusting that 'Mary Poppins 2' (hopefully this Fri) will be a much-needed salve.

  2. Hasn't hit near Smallville yet, but I do hope to see it.

    1. Do go, Bob. I'm in the minority on this one.