A Q&A with Boots Riley, Director of the Acid Trip that is 'Sorry to Bother You'
Sorry to Bother You
Uh...Give Me a Second, My Brain has Melted
I, for one, have never done acid. Or "dropped" acid. Or whatever it is you're supposed to do with acid, I haven't. However, I imagine the experience would be a little bit like seeing Sorry to Bother You. At the very least, LSD seems necessary to come up with this wacky telemarketing comedy/fantastical drama/political statement. The drug is mentioned at least once in every review of the film. It has even earned the nickname "Get Out on Acid," a bit of racially coded phraseology that simultaneously gives the movie too much credit by comparing it to an all-time classic while also discrediting its entirely different appeal. The point is, this movie is deeply weird. It's also really good. "I'm able to kidnap people for an hour and a half and bring them into my world," said first-time director Boots Riley during a post-screening Q & A I attended in Chicago last week. "Even though [the movie] is fantastical and absurd, I wanted it to hit on more of what life is." Therein lies the appeal. Riley chooses to linger in the mundane moments of everyday life just long enough to maximize relatability and create real comedy. The writing is really clever, and really funny. Even the use of the supernatural has a specific purpose. "I found that bending reality helped point to something else in real life, the things goes on in your head that you can't show on camera," Riley said. For example when the protagonist, played excellently by Lakeith Stanfield, makes a telemarking call, his desk is dropped into the room with the person on the other end of the line, giving the viewer visceral imagery to demonstrate the awkwardness that his character is feeling. Or when Stanfield's polite "white voice" is literally dubbed in by the actual white voice of David Cross. It's a tricky line to cross, because a weird, supernatural movie can quickly lose control and become ridiculous fast. In order to pull it off, the movie has to be very confident in where it's going. The viewer has to believe that they're in good hands. In this case, they are. Confidence is no issue for Boots Riley, who made a name for himself as the frontman for the politically-charged rap group The Coup. He's a self-proclaimed communist, a lifelong activist, and someone who is used to his voice being heard, whether or not it's liked. When he speaks, there's a tinge of defiance in his voice. This movie could be seen as a political statement. There's no question his radical ideals are at the forefront of the plot, and he stated explicitly that his preferred reaction to the film would be increased activism. If you disagree with his views, Riley is not afraid to make you feel really uncomfortable. At the same time, it's just an impressive work of art. Every camera angle, every absurd costume, every musical cue (Riley's group also did the entire soundtrack) is well-considered. The movie is crafted and polished. And can we talk about this ridiculous cast? Stanfield stars alongside Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Danny Glover, Terry Crews, Forest Whitaker (sort of) and the voices of Cross, Patton Oswalt, Lily James, and Rosario Dawson. That's an embarrassment of riches. It's enough reason to go see Sorry to Bother You. Just ask Boots. "We got the new rat pack as the cast. Really, I just had to make a movie that wasn't terrible and people would come see them."
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Anyone who knows me knows this pick is no surprise. The movie is not even that old, barely skirting under my 20-year-old barrier (1998). But Lebowski is one of my all-time favorites. And it shares a lot of similarities with Sorry to Bother You, capturing the world of someone with a dead beat job (or no job) who stumbles into a huge conspiracy that they're not even remotely prepared for, complete with plenty of trippy, supernatural elements. Instead of spawning a social movement, like Sorry to Bother Youhopes to do, this movie literally spawned a new religion: Dudeism. From the minds of my absolute favorite filmmakers, the Coen Brothers, this cult classic is possibly the most quotable movie of all time. If you're not rolling on the floor laughing the entire time, something is wrong with you.
The Informant! (2009)
This movie is basically the lily-white, country club version of Sorry to Bother You. Substitute a struggling entry-level telemarketer for a corporate executive, and you've got an entirely different set of issues. Except this time, it's all based on a true story! It's classic Steven Soderbergh. If you're a fan of the Ocean's movies or Logan Lucky, you're going to love this movie. Oftentimes in Soderbergh's work, it's hard to tell whether you're laughing with his characters or at them, because he's so good at crafting totally absurd situations. And the plot unfolds like an onion, with each new plot twist peeling back layers of lies until the hilarity gives way to a genuine core that leaves you both sad for Matt Damon's protagonist (a brilliant comedic performance) and also horrified at the magnitude of corporate greed in the United States.