Sorry to Bother You: a completely crazy social satire [critique]

Boots Riley’s directorial debut strides between edgy social cinema and biting satire. Caution, highly flammable product.

Worn by Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Jermaine Fowler, Sorry to bother you just arrived on Netflix. The opportunity to tell you again all the good things we thought of the film by Riley boots when it hits theaters in January 2019.

It didn’t take long. Sorry to bother you (” Sorry to disturb you “) almost never landed in French theaters and ended up anonymously in the Netflix catalog. Preceded by word of mouth and rave reviews on the other side of the Atlantic, this small independent and singular work, impossible to put in a box (and therefore to market) took seven months to cross the Atlantic. It’s a film like you rarely see: full as an egg, by turns surly, hilarious, subversive, clumsy, experimental… crazy. A joyous mess that oozes the rage and urgency of a filmmaker who is determined to send everything he has on the screen to the screen, for fear that he will never be allowed to achieve anything else again. Boots Riley, a highly politicized 47-year-old rapper from Oakland, signs a first feature film with feigned lightness, the transformation of a gently out of step working class hero into a nouveau riche, convinced that only money and social mobility will satisfy his existential angst. Cassius Green (pronounced “cash is green”) is a black telephone canvasser who discovers the ability to imitate a smart white white voice, thus gaining the trust of his customers. As his colleagues rebel against their dismal working conditions and launch a general strike, Cassius becomes a traitor to the cause as he rises through the corporate ranks. After leaving his uncle’s garage where he was squatting to settle in the beautiful neighborhoods, he quickly learns that the management is hiding a macabre secret that will force him to make the most important decision of his life…

Sorry to bother you hides under a veneer of pop madness a deglingo satire which multiplies the effects of staging under the influence of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry: with each phone call to his clients, Cassius’s office (the very good Lakeith Stanfield, seen in get-out and the series Atlanta) “falls” at their place, while they take their bath or eat their breakfast. The film is full of absurd and cartoonish gags (the photo of Cassius’ father judges him by the look; the building’s elevator only starts after typing an improbably long code), but which only exist to make the underlying revolutionary charge. A form of American social cinema of a new kind, anti-capitalist and ultra angry, which no longer hesitates to call for the CEO to break to free the workers from their chains. In the midst of this desire to smash the system with water hammers to find meaning and a semblance of fairness, Riley takes a parallel, acerbic look at the place of African-Americans in the United States. The director and screenwriter sees his country as a great bleaching machine, pushing black people to standardize and deny their skin color in order to integrate (the “white voice”, compulsory on the upper floors of the company, is the best example).


We will certainly blame Sorry to bother you to scatter and sometimes say everything and its opposite, but it is precisely this friction between his messages that feeds his devouring energy and his ability to make the big difference between cinematographic genres. In a resolutely twisted and unpredictable third act, the film leans dangerously towards the side of farce, before miraculously falling back on its feet. We come out with a strange sensation of dizziness mixed with excitement, but intimately convinced that the fury and irony of Boots Riley impose it as a voice on which we must now count. It really wasn’t worth apologizing for bothering us.

Sorry To Bother You: “What prevents me from mixing film genres?”

Leave a Reply