Social commentary has been a major facet of film since it was first used as the storytelling medium, condoning or condemning specific features of society. Recently, films like Black Panther, GetOut, Moonlight, Crazy Rich Asians, and Widows, all films that have some form of social commentary built into the story, have started to garner popularity with critics and audiences. This is not the first time that films have been praised for their pushing societal boundaries, but this current situation is unique because of the effect that it is having on the filmmaking industry at large. Now more than ever, representation is a hot-button topic that has gained control of the box office. Many people point to this as a sign that equality is closer than ever because women and minority groups are finally having their stories told to large audiences. Others say that this focus on representation might be more of a fad than a trend, and the industry might just return to its previous form before we know it. Either way, the more voices that can tell the stories of their culture, the better. With so many people from so many groups taking to the cinema to tell their culture’s stories, the medium stands to benefit. One great example of this isBoots Reily’s first feature film Sorry to Bother You.
As a first time writer-director, Reily’s satirical yet fantastical social commentary is a film that truly stands out. Even before its July release, Sorry to Bother You was being credited as the most original film of the year and an Oscar frontrunner in the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay categories.[i] This praise was shortlived, with Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, among others started to take the attention. This is a matter worth reconsidering though because Sorry to Bother You is a film that deserves recognition.
The aspect of the film that stands out the most is the screenplay. Reilystuck to his guns and told a unique story that touches on many different topics. The story is varied and versatile, sometimes playing like a modern adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s classic The Jungle, presenting capitalism as an easily corruptible machine that can control your entire being. Other times it plays as a dystopian thriller the likes of John Carpenter’s They Live, diving into the social class issues with a science-fiction twist. It also has spells of modern romantic drama, think Short Term12 or Spectacular Now. Sorry to Bother You has moments that feel like each of these, all while being its own story. It is refreshing to watch films that have a specific story to tell that does not compromise anything. While the screenplay could be knit picked(why was Tessa Thompson’s character Detroit lacking in development? She was exceptional, but the character could have done more for the story) it allows you to stay in the moment, even during some of the more absurd scenes.
As is the case with many films, the acting only amplifies the scripts emotional tempo and effect. Lakeith Stanfield presents the protagonistCassius Green as a complicated yet easy to understand character. His arc is nothing too crazy or out there, but the journey that he takes you on is proportionally fascinating. For every instance of nuance or subtly, he delivers on an emotionally powerful moment. It would be fun to hear his name brought up more in the best actor discussion, but it just happens to be a loaded category this year. Tessa Thompson’s Detroit is equal parts independent and loyal. This performance is yet another addition to an acting resume that is starting to become noteworthy. The supporting work in the film is, as you can infer, exceptional as well. Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick(magnificent), Terry Crews, Kate Berlant, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, ArmieHammer, David Cross, and Patten Oswalt do their best role player performances throughout. Each actor seems to match their character like Reily wrote each part specifically for them.
Finally, the tone was exceptional. Reily, cinematographer Doug Emmett, and Editor Terel Gibson collaborated to maximize each moment. In a movie where so much is going on, the three put together an inclusive film that will make you feel like you are a part of their inside joke. It needs to be that way. They could easily lose the viewer at many points, and that might already have been the case, but understanding that this story is not one specific genre is key. Thriller, romance, racial commentary, social commentary, a scathing indictment on capitalism, science-fiction, fantasy, the success of Sorry to Bother You is based on the viewers’ willingness to meander along with the storytellers. It is a difficult task, but the creators do their best to make it easy for the audience to maintain their suspension of disbelief.
Sorry to Bother You is a film that will be compared to others of this current moment. Assuredly, there is some person out there that has said that it is “theGet Out of comedy.” However, that does not do this film justice. It might have a vaguely similar issue in the plot, but that does not mean that it is the same film by any stretch. If you have an open mind and are willing to go on a fascinating yet hilarious journey, please do not be afraid to give Sorry to Bother You a chance. If you like your films like you like your friends, real, then it might be a good idea to pass on this one. Either way, this flick takes cinema in the right direction.
Sorry to Bother You is available on Hulu, Amazon, DirecTV, iTunes, and Red Box.
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