Review: Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)


Lakeith Stanfield in Sorry to Bother You

An unruly expression of unfettered talent and inspiration, Sorry to Bother You comes to us as an unformed work of genius, unwisely mottled amidst a work of juvenile inanity. The full work itself alternately thrills and bores, excites and disappoints, promises much and delivers a little, and only sporadically. Boots Riley has something to say, and say it he does! But this debut filmmaker seems intent on saying something else, and then something else again, and then something else again, and too little of it fresh enough to make the kind of impact that his bold directorial approach demands of it. Riley's attempt at formulating a style of cinema unique to him and to his concepts bears some particularly tasty fruit, but his method of collaging disparate elements to create a cohesive whole is hindered by a lack of development among much too many of those elements. His reach, to put it glibly, extends his grasp.


Keeping Sorry to Bother You on the right track even in spite of its wild missteps is that Riley always situates his material within a clear, emphatic political perspective, expressed bluntly, with minimal use of cryptic allegory. That bluntness has an innate tendency to veer toward corniness that ends up threatening to make a parody of its own parodic self, but one (as socialist as myself) can but admire Riley's conviction here. He may reduce the complexities of realising his abstract political notions in a narrative that favours forced subversion and deviance over depth and detail, but Riley evidently understands the topics on which he touches - work and workplace ethics in the modern world with specific reference to minorities and oppressed groups. That a satirical, almost even slapstick comedy can show itself to be so well-versed in such areas is notable, and sustains this movie as a legitimate work of meaningful art.


Yet Riley's search for meaning itself amid the mass of creative and theoretical influences and impulses is stymied by his ambition, an irrepressible urge to keep adding to an already crowded mix. Zaniness piles upon zaniness, and Sorry to Bother You soon becomes tiresome in its rabid, under-developed confusion of themes and motifs and extended narrative non-sequiturs. Riley eventually uses the mania to his advantage, essentially as an excuse to wipe the slate clean and to give him an opportunity to tie of the movie's many loose ends by just burning them and moving on, but one can't help but imagine that it might have been more to his advantage to indulge himself less liberally, and avoid the need for such sweeping formal gestures. He's got the talent and the inspiration in evident droves, but what Boots Riley lacks is refinement. Sorry to Bother You is simply too much, and too much of it not worthy of inclusion.

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