I finally saw Boots Riley‘s Sorry To Bother You yesterday afternoon. I agree with the admirers — it’s a piece of wildly-out-there satire that warrants everyone’s attention and respect. I laughed from time to time and admired the Brittania Hospital-meets-Idiocracy surrealism, but I just didn’t care for the Oakland prison colony vibe (especially after sitting through the tedious, Oakland-based Blindspotting). As much as I got off on Riley’s edge and flamboyance and inventive sidestepping of the usual-usual, I didn’t want to “live” in this film. And that’s a key thing.
I was saying to myself, “Yup…a clever, smart living-in-the-21st-Century-horror flick with a trippy sense of style…thumbs up.” But at the same time it’s basically a film about pervasive tyranny — about economic desperation and miserable 30somethings surrounded by a system that’s trying to turn them into drones and slaves. Yes, there’s a rebellion aspect but the tone is nonetheless dominated by the oppressors. I was feeling uncomfortable less than ten minutes in, and actually doubly so as I knew that if I wrote anything even half-negative that Glenn Kenny would accuse me of being a Grand Wizard.
And yet at the same time I wanted to escape. I’m sorry but I did. Sorry To Bother You made me feel like Steve McQueen in Papillon. It made me feel like a shrieking man-horse, writhing on the floor. I loved Lakeith Stanfield‘s deadpan performance and laughed every time he spoke in his pee-pee “white voice” (actually David Cross‘s), but I liked the presence of Jermaine Fowler more…sorry. Tessa Thompson is obviously fetching (especially since she announced that she’s having an affair with Janelle Monae) but lacks range. Armie Hammer was brought in to satirize his white Winklevoss master-of-the-universe vibe…whatever.
Can I get out of this? I “liked” and “admired” Sorry To Bother You — it’s definitely a film with an attitude of its own and a lot of tricks up its sleeve, and I completely agree that it’ll win all kinds of indie-centric awards early next year. But I’ll never watch it again because on a certain level I felt as if Riley and his cast were more into taking than giving. I nodded glumly at the vision being presented, but I felt as if some essential liquid enzyme was draining out of me as I sat there in my Village East auditorium. I’d rather jump off a 300-foot rocky cliff than become a telemarketer, and this film made me feel as if I was literally stuck doing that.
I had roughly the same reaction to Sorry To Bother You as I did to Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, which I half liked. The difference is that Sorry is a lot funnier and crazier.