Sorry To Bother You (Movie Review)
--- 6.9/10 - Decent -
This film is weird. In some good ways, but unfortunately more bad.
Let me start with the good! This movie is at times extremely creative. The visuals at play in the background and foreground are fantastic. The art department deserves kudos for building trinkets and things that make this world pop and feel believable. A big one to note is Tessa Thompson's entire wardrobe. She shines on the screen with her decked out protest art. Her earrings, hair, and makeup are always on point. There’s a lot of other small things I loved too, like the father photo that adapts and tons more. I think on re-watches these small things will peek out more. The big standout on the art side was a Stop-Motion short tucked into a scene of exposition.
Boots Riley (Debut Director/Writer) and his cinematographer Doug Emmet handle this film well. Some shots looked fantastic with popping colors and nice compositions. Most of those, unfortunately, are only in the first half of the film. My favorite shot design happens early in the film. It’s a brilliant subversion of reality when our main character makes a call to a customer to sell a product. His entire desk and himself falls into these people’s homes and lives, its brilliant. It sells the sensation of being an intruder and forcing a product upon them. It also shows the brilliant uncomfortable situations that come with a job like that. There’s a handful of other shots that I liked as well. One is a simple centered-medium shot, but behind him is a room where a printer is spitting papers wildly. These two shot designs and a few others have a faint Edgar Wright tone to them. A breaking of reality to show internal conflict within the frame.
There were a lot of scenes I didn’t like. One is where the background was green screened and looked cheap. They showed that scene about 3-4 times. I guess they couldn’t afford to go back to those locations?
The other big problem is that I can feel which shots the director put the work into and which ones they winged on set. There is a palpable lack of intent when it comes to a lot of these lesser scenes. Which is a downer considering Riley and his team are capable and creative. I wish they would’ve slowed down and pushed each scene visually to match the theme. The big ‘moments’ of the film especially lack in style and execution. The ending sequence in my eyes was unimaginative, weirdly shot, edited and composed. The pacing and structure of it ruined any significant impact on me. One other good sequence involves a bed, with blankets and covers coming on and off in a cool time-lapse way.
As for the actors in this movie. Tessa Thompson is a damn star. The way she handles her character here is with a quantifiable coolness. Not only does she rock her looks, she nails every line given to her. Whether it’s a joke, statement or an attack, her performance is in tune with the film's personality. For me, she is the biggest selling point of this movie. The lead actor Lakeith Stanfield does great as well. He adapts and becomes this hunched over, thoughtful, antisocial guy. Armie Hammer does a fine job selling his CEO personality for the few scenes he has. The rest of the cast is good as well.
Now, to the story. The script does a great job early in the film sets up this world and its characters. I love how it handles the relationship with our two leads and their growth. I love his friendships and even the beginning of the union starting to form. The film has this great upward trajectory and then we reach the mid-point and then the story unravels. It feels like the latter half of this film never got any editing or further revisions on the page. Its sloppy, uneventful and honestly not good. Yes, it gets ‘crazy’. But it adds very little depth to the theme. It feels like a tacked-on exaggeration that’s never realized in the film. It reminds me of the shock art show that’s in the film. It's attention for attention's sake. That to me isn’t very creative, or ambitious.
Now, there is a sobering moment before this ‘craziness’ where Armie Hammer shows a very uncomfortable display of racism. That scene is one of the very few highlights of the latter half of the film.
Also, I wanted to note how awkward the dialogue exchange between Stanfield and Hammer is post ‘craziness’. It's badly paced, shot and performed.
The film after this point slumbers on, retreading points with no real poignancy. Oh yeah, and the ‘craziness’ looks so awfully plastic and fake that it was kind of shocking how bad they looked. The final big conflict is also a complete mess. It becomes incoherent at one point for no reason. Then we get the ending that I hated. It felt like it was cut out of a B-movie. We get a tacked on 'revelation' then to make matters worse, we get a damn stinger, that is simply stupid. I’m sorry but it's too campy.
The other big issue of this film is how they handle the ‘white’ voice. It’s a great concept and funny, but Riley really fucked this up. If you watch the two other actors who speak in white voice their lip sync is nearly perfect and matches their mouths. But the main character and his ‘white voice’ doesn’t line up at all, ever. It's awful and damn annoying. Every time he spoke in 'white' voice, I was ripped out of this film, and it was a lot. The reason it’s obvious is that Stanfield barely opens his mouth when he talks. The 'white' voice actor David Cross uses his entire mouth to speak. Its night and day and painfully obvious. Plus, the 'white' voice is clearly overdubbed because the entire soundtrack of the film lowers when he talks which is another annoyance.
I would’ve seriously reshot all those scenes if I was him, I can’t imagine living with a mistake like this in a movie. He could have at least gotten the voice actor to close his mouth more. Great idea, horrible, horrible execution.
So, in ending,
This film is weird. It begins great, building a reality of corporate greed and impoverished lifestyles. We get big themes left and right like capitalism, unions, slave labor, and media control. We get two great leads with Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. The film begins with great style, but then at the midpoint, it descends into mediocrity. It retreads themes, adding little to nothing. It becomes jumbled and messy in execution. The ending leaves a bad taste in your mouth with a terribly uncreative ending. This film had serious potential. I can’t help but feel like Boots Riley got too confident and tripped over himself. The script still needed a lot of work to shine. The numerous technical faults bring this film down a lot for me. I would still recommend this film to any Tessa Thompson fan though. As she is stunning as always.