Sorry to Bother You ★★★½


Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), the beleaguered protagonist of 'Sorry to Bother You', has problems. Young, black, and unemployed in Oakland, Calif., he’s living in his uncle’s (Terry Crewes) garage and four months behind on his rent. He’s so desperate – and so lacking in shame – that he has a fake Employee of the Month plaque made up, which he brings along to interviews as (fraudulent) proof of his past gainful employment. (It’s a kind of splinter of the True Cross for the gig economy.) A hiring manager (Robert Longstreet) at the RegalView telemarketing company calls him on this con, but then waves away the deception: He just needs warm bodies to answer phones and sell encyclopedias. Cash takes the job, because what else is he going to do? It’s a paycheck, and at least his easy-going friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) works at RegalView too.

Cash expects his politically conscious starving-artist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), to be disappointed with his meager ambitions, but as a part-time curbside sign-twirler, she knows a thing or two about doing what needs be done to put gas in the car (40 cents at a time, on occasion). Eventually, she starts taking shifts at RegalView as well. Cash initially has trouble closing the deal with the company’s customers-cum-dupes: The film visualizes him dropping, 'Wallace and Gromit'-style, into their living rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms to rattle off a canned script, where he’s treated as a nuisance to be swatted away. Then a RegalView old-timer named Langston (Danny Glover) gives him a crucial tip: Cash needs to use his “white voice” on the phone. In an incisive little exchange, the older man explains that said voice isn’t a stand-up comedian’s nasally impression of a white guy, but rather an attitude of ease and confidence, one that suggests no speed bumps on the horizon.

During drinks with his co-workers, Cash soon stumbles onto his own personal white voice (realized as David Cross), and it proves to be his secret weapon. Before long, he’s racking up commissions, breaking sales records, and eyeing the golden elevator in the lobby, the one reserved for the company’s so-called Power Callers. However, worker dissent is reaching a boiling point at RegalView, where fellow telemarketer Squeeze (Steven Yeun) is organizing a “phones down” strike to demand a wage increase – and catching Detroit’s eye in the process. Cash is all for just labor practices, in theory, but if he’s fired for rabble-rousing there aren’t many alternatives left to him. Other than a lifetime contract with WorryFree Solutions, a mega-corporation that offers rudimentary food, clothing, and shelter in exchange for endless drudgery.

The cheerfully dystopian WorryFree factory-prisons – omnipresent in advertisements, where whole families are depicted toiling on assembly lines and sleeping in cells – are just one of the signs that writer-director Boots Riley has something stranger and rowdier up his sleeve than a race-conscious workplace comedy...

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