Hold the line, please, caller

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU I Mu­si­cian Boots Ri­ley hits the right notes in his ab­sur­dist de­but…


I’m not a fan, ob­vi­ously, of the one-idea movie,” says mu­si­cian-turned-writer/helmer Boots Ri­ley. “I was try­ing to get at some­thing that was closer to how life is and how con­ver­sa­tions are.” No one-gim­mick here – Ri­ley’s di­rec­to­rial de­but Sorry To Bother You, “an ab­sur­dist com­edy” set in the world of tele­mar­ket­ing, is a sav­age swipe at cor­po­rate Amer­ica, re­al­ity TV and “the pup­pet-masters be­hind the pup­pets”.

Get Out’s Lakeith Stan­field plays Cas­sius Green, an Oak­land lad who gets a job flog­ging en­cy­clopae­dias on the phone. It’s a “soul-crush­ing” world Ri­ley knew only too well, hav­ing en­dured two spells of tele­mar­ket­ing around the time that he formed his po­lit­i­cal hip-hop group, The Coup. “Some­times I’d just work one day ev­ery two weeks. That’s how good I was at it… you have to be will­ing to lie and ma­nip­u­late peo­ple.”

In the world that Ri­ley cre­ates in Sorry To Bother You, TV is dom­i­nated by a hideous-look­ing re­al­ity show called ‘I Got The S#*@ Kicked Out Of Me’, while work­ers are en­cour­aged to join Wor­ryFree – a com­pany where em­ploy­ees eat and sleep on-site in gi­ant mono­lithic ware­houses.

It’s al­ready drawn com­par­isons to a cer­tain well-known on­line re­tailer, with its strict work­ing prac­tices. “Now a few things have come out about Ama­zon,” says Ri­ley, “peo­ple are re­lat­ing it to Wor­ryFree.”

If Sorry To Bother You is a night­mar­ish vi­sion that the world is al­ready un­com­fort­ably close to, it’s also full of weird and wild mo­ments of magic re­al­ism and body hor­ror – like an Amer­i­can an­swer to Lind­say An­der­son’s O Lucky Man!

For Ri­ley, it was a chance to ex­plore one of the big­gest ques­tions of all. “The rul­ing classes ex­ploit the work­ing class. We know that!” he says. “Why have we not had movies that show this?” With Ri­ley at the helm, the mes­sage comes across loud and clear.

Lakeith Stan­field as tele­sales star Cas­sius, with col­league Langston (Danny Glover).

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