Let’s bag and tag.
Sorry to Bother You came and went last year during such a flurry of films that I kind of forgot about it. Right now, it is streaming on Hulu (so if you have that one of fifty options you can watch it) and I was glad to see it.
We follow Cash, a young man without any real direction who is desperate to get a job. He starts working as a telemarketer for a mega-corporation and is promised that if he does well enough he can become a Power Caller, where the real money is made. However, until he reaches that level his wages are terrible.
The reality of the working poor is on full display here. We watch people bust their asses to barely get by, and soon Cash (and girlfriend, Detroit) are brought into efforts to unionize. However, as efforts to unionize begin, so does Cash’s ability to be a badass salesperson. By using his (overly dubbed) “white person voice” he is able to become a selling machine. Now, he is forced between standing with the group or taking advantage of his newfound success.
Capitalism is satirized at almost every turn here. Individual scenes work quite well as we see the harsh realities through surrealistic and absurdist situations. I wanted to like this movie as it is hitting on a lot of important issues. The film is labelled as an alternative universe, and for the first 45 minutes I didn’t see this aspect. The exploitative nature of work and entertainment could honestly be a natural progression from where we are now. These are the moments of the film I truly enjoyed—where the surrealism became a little too, well, real.
Unfortunately, the film veers into fantasy in the latter act and this overall hurt the experience. As more and more issues are compounded onto the central thesis everything gets a little messy. Don’t get me wrong, the main theme of anti-capitalist fable remains, but it becomes a little too fragmented to completely follow through any of the threads. Characters simply disappear from the movie, leaving their plots hanging until Cash bothers to get back to them.
Without any spoilers, the film ends up being a lot different than advertised. While we have amazing points brought up (the notion of the white-person voice is quite interesting), but they aren’t fully explored. There are enough ideas here for more than one film, perhaps more than two.
There is an obvious passion behind the scenes, but the film gets somewhat stuck on certain aspects. Oddly, it is at once too long and not explained enough. For the last twenty minutes of the running time I was ready for it to end.
The ideas here are admirable. I also dig that we have a new absurdist voice with Boots Riley behind the camera. However, this simply isn’t a slam dunk for me. I see why a lot of people liked it. For me, the sum does not equal the good parts. I don’t think this is a bad film, but I also don’t think it is a great film—I also think I didn’t like it. I know that statement is probably odd, but I wanted so much more out of this (and yes, that is on me) and while there are a lot of fun and thought-provoking moments, there are also things that feel a little out of place. I can think of parts fondly, but the whole package was just too scattered.
I’m in the minority here. A lot of people loved this one, and there is a lot to love. I think the big thing is whether or not you can stay on the ride the whole time without looking back. Folks who were curious about it or want an anti-capitalist absurdity will find some good stuff here. Also, this would be a fun one to discuss with friends after a screening with some beers or coffee.
Certainly, worth a stream.