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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Sorry to Bother You Review

In February of 1961, the good people of France were treated to a cinematic experience like no other. “À bout de souffle,” or as we know it, “Breathless,” was a radically fresh new piece of art, challenging everything movie-goers expected to see. Though when viewed through modern eyes, famed director Jean-Luc Godard’s debut film is little more than a cool gangster story portrayed in familiar, albeit strange, cinematic language. It must not be overlooked that this film was at its time revolutionary. So revolutionary that it has since become what many people would refer to as the defining film of the French New Wave, an artistic movement in French cinema whose ethos was so eloquently defined by Godard himself in the phrase, “find each rule, and do the opposite.”
Today, those who love the art of the cinema always hear about how “shocking” and “revolutionary” these films were for their initial audiences, but we don’t really know what it feels like to see something so incredible. Sure, there are always new technical boundaries to be pushed, and fresh ways to invoke familiar emotions. There will always be new stories and styles, but we don’t just want to see new things on an old foundation. We want to see a movie that really does, like a modern “Breathless,” find each rule, and do the opposite.
So let’s talk about “Sorry to Bother You.”
I’ve heard many different films referred to as something that “you just gotta see to believe,” but this is the first time I’ve ever felt that such a label is actually warranted. I could try and describe many of the new things that rapper-turned-director Boots Riley does in his feature debut, but I feel as though that would take too much of the punch out of it when you see it for yourself. And you really should see it. Furthermore, I don’t think that such an explanation would actually do the film justice. This is a movie that, on paper, shouldn’t work. It’s a film that experiments with subjectivity, then with objectivity, then with being just plain bat-shit-crazy. At first, it may feel like too much is coming out of left field, until you realize that this whole movie takes place in left field. It’s as though Riley threw everything at the wall to see what would stick, leaving it all stuck. It’s like watching a normal movie through a kaleidoscope. It’s–it’s a lot.
Yet hidden beneath its psychedelic veneer, “Sorry to Bother You” does tell a story. And a good story at that. Riley’s film is a nuanced social satire in which Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) gets a crappy job as a telemarketer. It’s tough at first, but when Cassius discovers that he can make more sales by using his “white voice,” this unlikely hero skyrockets through the company ranks, revealing unto Cassius an entirely new world. Every aspect of the world portrayed by the film is a pointed critique of some facet of our own lives. Sometimes these are overt satires, whilst others are more subtle. The beauty of it all is that everything has a purpose.
It is this purpose, I think, that keeps the film coherent. At a glance, “Sorry to Bother You” looks like a mess, and yet for some reason, it just works. And it’s beautiful. In a general sense, “Sorry to Bother You” is doing the same thing that films have been doing forever. I couldn’t say that there’s any more social/political commentary in this than there is in, say, “Metropolis.” The amazing thing is that Riley has done this familiar thing in an unfamiliar way. It is not something new on an old foundation, it is something old on a new foundation. He’s found every rule and broken it. And I have no doubt that the film students of tomorrow will watch “Sorry to Bother You” in their classes, and lament not having gotten to see it in theaters. So what are you waiting for? Don’t miss your chance. Put down this paper and GO SEE THIS FILM!