Sorry to Bother You
Sorry to Bother You is a 2018 American dark comedy film written and directed by Boots Riley, in his directorial debut. It stars Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and Armie Hammer. The film follows a young black telemarketer who adopts a white accent to succeed at his job. Swept into a corporate conspiracy, he must choose between profit and joining his activist friends to organize labor.
|Sorry to Bother You|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Boots Riley|
|Written by||Boots Riley|
|Edited by||Terel Gibson|
|Distributed by||Annapurna Pictures|
|Box office||$18.3 million|
Principal photography began in June 2017 in Oakland. Sorry to Bother You premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 6, 2018, by Annapurna Pictures. The film received praise for its cast and concept, as well as Riley's screenplay and direction.
Cassius "Cash" Green lives in his uncle Sergio's garage with his girlfriend, Detroit, an artist. Struggling to pay rent, Cash gets a job as a telemarketer for RegalView. Cash has trouble talking to customers until Langston, an older co-worker, teaches him to use his "white voice", at which Cash excels.
Cash's coworker Squeeze forms a union and recruits Cash, Detroit, and their friend Sal. When Cash participates in a protest, he expects to be fired but is instead promoted to an elite Power Caller position. In the luxurious Power Caller suite, Cash is told always to use his white voice, and learns that RegalView secretly sells arms and slave labor from the corporation WorryFree.
Though Cash is initially uncomfortable with the job, he can now afford a new car and apartment and pays off Sergio's house (in the process keeping him from joining WorryFree) and his own rent. Working long hours, he stops participating in the union push and his relationship with Detroit deteriorates. When Cash crosses the union's picket line, one of the picketers hits him with a can of soda. Footage of the incident becomes an Internet meme.
Cash is invited to a party with WorryFree CEO Steve Lift, where he is goaded into rapping. Lift offers Cash a powdered substance which Cash snorts, believing it is cocaine. Looking for the bathroom, Cash discovers a shackled half-horse, half-human hybrid who begs him for help. Lift explains that WorryFree plans to make their workers stronger and more obedient by transforming them into "equisapiens". The transformation occurs when a human snorts a gene-modifying powder. Cash fears he just snorted the substance, but Lift assures him it was cocaine. Cash refuses a $100-million offer over five years to become an equisapien and act as a false revolutionary figure to keep the employees in line.
Cash discovers he dropped his phone when he encountered the equisapien, who recorded a plea for help and sent it to Detroit's phone. To spread the video, Cash appears on television shows, including the extremely popular I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me, enduring humiliations and beatings to get the video played. The plan backfires. The equisapiens are hailed as a groundbreaking scientific advancement, and WorryFree's stock reaches an all-time high. Cash apologizes to Squeeze, Sal, and Detroit, and joins the union in a final stand against RegalView.
Cash uses a security code from the equisapien's video to break into Lift's home. He goes to the picket line, where the police start a riot and knock him out. The equisapiens overpower the police and free Cash. Detroit and Cash reconcile and move back into Sergio's garage, but Cash starts to grow horse nostrils. Fully transformed, he leads a mob of equisapiens to Lift's house and breaks down the door.
- Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius "Cash" Green
- David Cross as Cash's "white voice"
- Tessa Thompson as Detroit, Cash’s girlfriend
- Lily James as Detroit’s white voice
- Jermaine Fowler as Salvador
- Omari Hardwick as Mr. _______
- Patton Oswalt as Mr. _______'s white voice
- Terry Crews as Sergio Green, Cash's uncle
- Danny Glover as Langston
- Steven Yeun as Squeeze
- Armie Hammer as Steve Lift
- Kate Berlant as Diana DeBauchery
- Forest Whitaker as First Equisapien/Demarius
- Rosario Dawson as Voice in Power Caller Elevator
Boots Riley describes the film as "an absurdist dark comedy with aspects of magical realism and science fiction inspired by the world of telemarketing". The screenplay for Sorry to Bother You was inspired by his own time working as a telemarketer and telefundraiser in California and his need to put on a different voice to find success. Riley finished the screenplay in 2012, and with no means to produce it, recorded an album of the same title with his band The Coup, inspired by the story. The screenplay was originally published in full as part of McSweeney's issue 48 in 2014.
In June 2017, it was announced that production would go forward on Sorry to Bother You, directed by Riley, and that Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Steven Yeun had been cast in the film. Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, Charles D. King and George Rush served as producers on the film, under their Significant Productions, MACRO, and Cinereach banners, respectively. The same month, Armie Hammer, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick and Terry Crews also joined the cast. In July 2017, Danny Glover, David Cross and Patton Oswalt joined the cast, with Kate Berlant, Robert Longstreet and Michael Sommers added later that month.
The film score was composed and performed by Tune-Yards. Riley and The Coup recorded an original soundtrack for the film as well, slated to be released later in 2018. The first single, "OYAHYTT", featuring Lakeith Stanfield, was released July 13, 2018.
Boots Riley has said that the film offers a radical class analysis of capitalism, not a specific analysis of America under President Trump. He wrote the initial screenplay during the Obama administration, and the target was never any specific elected official or movement, but "the puppetmasters behind the puppets." While most of the final script remained the same, minimal changes were made to avoid appearing to critique Trump specifically, including removing a line where a character says "Worry Free is making America great again," written before Trump used the line in his 2016 presidential campaign.
The film's title has a double meaning, referencing both the phrase's use by telemarketers and its general usage when telling a person something you know they might not like to hear, such as the film's anti-capitalist message. According to Riley, "the other side of it is that often when you're telling someone something that is different from how they view things, different from how they view the world, it feels like an annoyance or a bother. And that's where that comes from." The plot of a strike was used to reflect the need to "organize people in the workplace" and for workers to recognize their power.
When asked on his choice to cast Armie Hammer as Steve Lift, Riley said that Hammer was a "lovable dude" whose casting reflects the "new capitalism" in which the realities of working conditions are hidden, referencing lines such as "I'm not your boss, I'm your friend."
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2018. Shortly after, Annapurna Pictures acquired distribution rights. It also screened at South by Southwest on March 12, 2018. The film was initially scheduled to be released on June 29, 2018, but was pushed back a week to July 6, 2018, where it began with a limited release before expanding wider on July 13.
The film had difficulty getting international distribution. On September 18, 2018, Riley announced that Universal Pictures and Focus Features had picked up its international distribution rights. It premiered at the 2018 London Film Festival, followed by a UK release on December 7.
As of December 14, 2018[update], Sorry to Bother You has grossed $17.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $792,464 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $18.3 million, against a production budget of $3.2 million.
The film earned $727,266 from 16 theaters in its limited opening weekend, for an average of $45,452, the fourth-best average of 2018. It finished 16th at the weekend box office. It had its wide release, in 805 theaters, on July 13, alongside the openings of Skyscraper and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, and was forecast to gross around $3.5 million over the weekend. The film made more on its first day of wide release ($1.5 million) than it had in its full week of limited ($1.1 million). It went on to gross $4.3 million over the weekend, an increase of 485%, finishing 7th at the box office. The film was added to another 245 theaters in its third week of release and made $2.8 million, finishing 10th.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 285 reviews, with an average rating of 7.73/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Fearlessly ambitious, scathingly funny, and thoroughly original, Sorry to Bother You loudly heralds the arrival of a fresh filmmaking talent in writer-director Boots Riley." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 80 out of 100, based on 51 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film an 84% overall positive score and a 72% "definite recommend".
James Berardinelli of ReelViews said "Sorry to Bother You blends conventional comedy with political satire to produce a film that will generate laughter and a sense of discomfort in equal doses." David Sims of The Atlantic wrote, "The story's heightened reality works best when it's barely distinguishable from our own—though it starts to lose steam the more it drifts into fantasy. The movie is at times a mess, but a compelling one, and this debut from Boots Riley should herald a fascinating filmmaking career." Peter Debruge of Variety magazine praised the film, calling it "deliriously creative and ambitious to a fault", but expressed reservations about its second half: "As the movie's allegorical relation to real-world problems blurs, audiences are left to wonder what Riley's point is supposed to be." Jesse Hassenger of The A.V. Club described the film as "often wildly funny, and if its broad arc is familiar stuff about a down-on-his-luck everyman experiencing success but at what cost, at least the plot specifics are unpredictable". Randall Colburn of Consequence of Sound called it "a mess, but a glorious one" and said it "is fun until it's overwhelming, and Riley would likely have benefited from a good editor."
A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club reviewed the film at the Sundance Film Festival and dissented from his peers, calling it "a scattershot, intermittently pointed satire whose jokes and insights land with about the same (in)frequency." Dowd was critical of the writing and direction: "There's a messy, first-draft quality to how the film fits said ideas together, and a general sloppiness to the execution, with Riley botching the timing on too many jokes ... Sorry To Bother You is plainly a first feature, and that's no insult: Even as some of the film's comedy fell flat for me, I distantly admired its something-to-prove chutzpah."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s)||Result|
|Gotham Awards||November 26, 2018||Audience Award||Sorry to Bother You||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Lakeith Stanfield||Nominated|
|Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director||Boots Riley||Nominated|
|National Board of Review||January 8, 2019||Top Ten Independent Films||Sorry to Bother You||Won|
|Directors Guild of America Awards||February 2, 2019||Outstanding Directing – First-Time Feature Film||Boots Riley||Nominated|
|Independent Spirit Awards||February 23, 2019||Best First Feature||Boots Riley, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, Forest Whitaker and Kelly Williams||Won|
|Best Screenplay||Boots Riley||Nominated|
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