Sorry to Bother You ★★★

I love that this movie exists. I love how willing it is to be weird, take swift turns, and trust that the audience is with it as it follows its dystopian satire logic to its sci fi ends. I love that much of its character conflict is how being a scab makes all of your friends dislike you. I love how so much of the film is about how easy it is for resistance to be corrupted, how existing and succeeding in white supremacy and capitalism means selling some of your soul, and every character exist on a spectrum of how much they're willing to give up of themselves for a kind of gain. And yet, it doesn't really come together.

A lot of the movie is about how Cash puts on a performance, his "white voice," and how that allows him dubious access to a certain kind of capital, the insidious cult of corporate incentives. We also see how Detroit puts on a performance, for art in and out of the gallery. Even Squeeze performs, salting and organizing, to his co-workers and to the media. The film's most astute and biting moments are when we see how these performances are being received, and what this reception does to the performer. That's why the most compelling scenes are with Cash at Lift's party, as he is more explicitly performing versions of Blackness for a white audience, and we see immediate audience response, and then his recognition. The rest of the film doesn't spend time with the reception of these performances, since much of the telemarketing is told in montage, and other scenes about performance aren't given much time. (Detroit's gallery performance scene has no bite, unfortunately, and her character feels woefully underdeveloped.)

By focusing on the satiric world building instead of character's reactions to one another, it loses itself a bit. This world building is full of interesting ideas, but they feel a little removed, both very on-the-nose (not a bad thing!) and a little shallow at the same time. The film's all over the place, and then quickly throws a bunch of stuff at the wall right at the end, not quite sticking enough for emotional or comedic weight.
I really wanted to like this a lot, but I'm more uncertain about it, disappointed. Excited to see what Riley's next film is.

Ben liked this review