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In an alternate reality of present-day Oakland, California, struggling telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finds himself in a macabre universe after he discovers a magical key that leads to material glory. As his career begins to take off, his friends and co-workers organize a protest against corporate oppression. Cassius soon falls under the spell of Steve Lift, a cocaine-snorting CEO who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams. (From Annapurna Pictures’ official synopsis)

 Sorry to Bother You
Modern Kafkaesque narratives in film are often tied to corporate environments, where nonsense bureaucracy drives a low-rung worker to madness as they struggle up the hierarchical ladder. This nightmare reality and society’s acceptance of its absurdity double as indictments of real-world Capitalism. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) is a prime example of Kafka’s themes being applied in this manner, though it, like many of the films it inspired, doesn’t really acknowledge the racial aspects of toxic Capitalism. Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta (2017 – present) has touched upon Kafkaesque ideas over two seasons, often with a surrealistic touch, but musician/rapper/activist icon Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (which also features Lakeith Stanfield and shares a myriad of other similarities that I don’t really need to get into here) dives headfirst into these concepts as metaphors for race and culture’s place in a modern corporate environment. In addition, Riley alters the content of the criticism by making the protagonist an active participant in the narrative, rather than a put-upon cog in the machine (at least until he tumbles too far down the rabbit hole to turn back).  

And that’s just an intellectual entry point – there’s more going on here than cultural existentialism. Frankly, I’m still working through a lot of it, such as the clear allusions to artists selling out and struggling to maintain a sense of identity. Sorry to Bother You doesn’t require the viewer to meet it on this level, nor does it spend all of its time dealing in philosophical to-dos. For the first act or so, it’s tonally comparable to the Judd Apatow brand of slice-of-life comedy with hints of the Zucker-Abrahms-Zucker brand of fullbore pop culture spoof than Brazil. It’s quirky, stylish, and clearly more politically attentive than The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) or Airplane! (1980), but not overtly weird or revolutionarily-minded. Then, Cassius is welcomed into the fold and discovers the dystopian nightmare behind the curtain, and Riley starts unloading his most wicked insights and absurd concepts. A couple of jokes fall flat or too on-the-nose, which is the risk anyone runs when they load this many gags into a single movie, but the deeper Riley shoves us into the weeds, the easier it is to accept the naked silliness of some scenes. Depending on your point of view, the bigger issue is the film’s refusal to let the dramatic moments remain poignant for longer than a minute before cracking another joke (usually a really adorable one at that). This doesn’t makes Sorry to Bother You a weaker film in the long run, considering Riley’s tone is consistent and intended – I just find myself a little disappointed when he deflates the hardest-hitting truths.

 Sorry to Bother You

Video


Sorry to Bother You was shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras and is presented on this Blu-ray in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video. Despite the retro-anachronistic set and costume design, Riley and cinematographer Doug Emmett opt to fully embrace the digital format’s specific strengths with dim lighting, delicate textures, pin-point focus, and complex colour schemes that likely could not have been achieved in-camera. The image is impeccably clean, from the hard divisions of the sharpest edges, to the smooth gradations of the softest blends. Patterns and textures are rarely muddied by the softness or dimness, even though some sequences are so dark, that it can be difficult to understand what’s going on. Darkness doesn’t get in the way of the vibrant colours, though – they’re searing and rich without any notable banding and minimal noise throughout the mixed hues.

Audio


Sorry to Bother You is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. While the sound design doesn’t match your typical big Hollywood blockbuster, it is still pretty playful, especially where the dynamic ranges are concerned. The dialogue and incidental effects are neatly centered and clean (the overdubbed white voices are purposefully ‘detached’ in terms of their tones). The stereo and surround channels are occasionally engaged by stylistic tweaks (Cassius crashing into people’s houses as he speaks to them over the phone, for example), but they’re usually reserved for the immersive musical moments. The soundtrack, which is provided by Riley’s own musical project, The Coup, and Tune-Yards (Merrill Garbus & Nate Brenner), regularly fills out the speakers, moves around the room, and gives the LFE something to do.

 Sorry to Bother You

Extras


  • Commentary with Boots Riley – The writer/director offers up a personable, laid back, sometimes lethargic, often very informative perspective on his film. He discusses the messages and meanings of the film, but leaves plenty of it open to interpretation by omission, and is most lively when talking about his inspirations and the various autobiographical elements. The lethargy is the issue here, which leads to some very quiet stretches.
  • Beautiful Clutter with Director Boots Riley (11:55, HD) – This EPK-like featurette is a decent Cliff’s Notes look at Riley’s career, the cast & characters, the city of Oakland, and the making of the film.
  • Promotional featurettes:
    • The Cast of Sorry to Bother You[/i] (1:52, HD)
    • The Art of the White Voice (2:03, HD)
  • Gallery
  • Trailer and trailers for other Twentieth Century Fox releases


 Sorry to Bother You

Overall


Sorry to Bother You takes an entertaining and unpredictable look at the horrors of our society. It is, as they often say, not for everybody, but it’s also more accessible than some may assume. Fox’s Blu-ray looks sharp and clean enough to draw out detail during the darkest sequences and sounds nice, though more extensive extras would’ve been nice.

 Sorry to Bother You

 Sorry to Bother You

 Sorry to Bother You
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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