Cinematic Releases: Code-Switching for Fun and Profit: Sorry to Bother You (2018) - Reviewed

Sorry to Bother You (2018),  the directorial debut of Boots Riley, a well-known rapper and musician, is a scathing social commentary wrapped in absurdist humor and sci-fi trappings. While this movie is a tad messy narrative-wise, it's always hurtling forward at a breakneck pace, jumping from one idea to the next, hardly giving the viewer time to catch their breath. The sheer creativity on screen is a joy to behold, and after the dust settles it gives one many ideas to ponder.

The main story concerns Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) a regular guy just trying to make his way through the world. He lives in his uncle's garage and recently started a new telemarketing job at RegalView. His girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is a bohemian artist who spends her days twirling signs in front of businesses for extra cash and her nights as a performance artist and sculptor. The main conflict in Cash's life is the idea that his black cultural mannerisms are at odds with his need to conform to a Eurocentric presentation to get ahead at his job.

This film deals a lot with the concept of "code-switching" in which an individual changes their vernacular depending on what group of people they are around. In Sorry to Bother You, this specifically refers to Cash having to use a "white voice" (provided by David Cross) in order to get his telephone customers to take him seriously. There is much contention about whether African American Vernacular English (colloquially also known as Ebonics) is appropriate for general usage and black people are often discriminated against for utilizing it. Cash can only find success in his job by suppressing his true self and conforming to what has systemically been declared the "correct" way to do business. The motto of RegalView is "stick to the script" and that's exactly what Cash has to do both literally and metaphorically to get promoted.

At the same time, there is a secondary plot which is a satirical skewering of capitalism and internet slacktivism. The workers at RegalView want to organize a union and initially Cash is all in, but once he starts gaining rank (and that sweet cash money) within the company his lavish lifestyle conflicts with his need to fight the upper management. As the saying goes: "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism" and Cash tries to play both sides of the field unsuccessfully. There is a Brave New World vibe as well, with the general populous being distracted with inane TV shows such as I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me and with pointless internet memes and viral videos.

The visuals and editing are absolutely fantastic, and they compliment the razor sharp writing and line delivery. There is always something weird going on in the background and the comedy beats reminded me of The Simpsons and Futurama especially with the reliance on sight gags and word play. The third act of the film takes a trip into magical realism, but it's not too much of a surprise since the film tweaks reality to its liking constantly beforehand. This is an alternate version of Oakland, with the strangeness dialed up to maximum.

While this movie does have a few issues, mainly with the story losing some focus in the middle portion, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. Sorry to Bother You is a mind-blowing, frenetic, visual trip that will have you silently mouthing "what the fuck" several times during its run-time and it's one of the most original films to come out in 2018.

--Michelle Kisner