I had the honour of meeting Boots Riley this year at the London Film Festival. In fact, he shook my hand. And for a surreal moment it felt like I had somehow being sucked into the hyper world of Sorry to Bother You. The LFF Connects Talk with Boots Riley was incredibly fascinating, and gave an insight into Riley’s background, and the influences he had drawn upon to write Sorry to Bother You.
Riley began writing the script back in 2011. In 2012, his band, The Coup, released an album with the same title, and featured a song addressed to Cassius. In 2014, the screenplay was published by McSweeney’s, which has just reprinted the screenplay in all of its glory. So make sure to pick up a copy if you can.
Trying to describe Riley’s film accurately and without giving away any spoilers, is like trying to find a needle in haystack (somewhat impossible). However, I will give it my best shot.
The film centres around Cassius, who becomes as telemarketer. He discovers that he has a unique gift—the ability to speak in white voice. After swiftly moving up the company ladder using his gift, he soon discovers that the CEO behind the company has much bigger plans for him.
Tackling issues, like racism and corporate greed, with absurdist comedy, Sorry to Bother You is the most disturbing film of the year (sorry Hereditary). It’s originality and distinct tone is refreshing in these times of remakes, sequels and comic book adaptations. And I know that sounds snobby of me but sorry, there’s a reason why none of the Marvel films have won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.
Sorry to Bother You balances dark, serious, social issues with surreal comedy, that will have you laughing, even when you know you shouldn’t be. Riley has managed to pull off what so many screenwriters fail to do, a good comedy with a powerful message.
The world of Sorry to Bother You, is like our own but on steroids. A popular TV show is called I Got The Shit Kicked Out of Me, and a menacing company called Worryfree enslaves people with cheery marketing and flashy advertising. This hyper reality draws the viewer in; it’s a reality that we recognise, but is alien at the same time, because it seems so larger than life.
Riley is trying to convey the idea that the world of Sorry to Bother You, has the potential of emerging if we aren’t careful and pay attention to our surroundings. As a society we have become desensitized and unaffected by the world around us, which is why in the world of Sorry to Bother You, a show like I Got The Shit Kicked Out of Me, is so popular. The show is a representation of reality TV shows and Talent shows which dominate our screens. We watch from the comfort of our homes as people are humlinated for entertiament purposes, without us (the viewer) considering the outcomes of these poor indviduals being mocked by the likes of Simon Cowell on national TV.
Through the use of Sorry to Bother You, Riley is holding a mirror to our face, and allowing us to see our ugliness and greed. However, Riley’s film isn’t preachy or pretentious, but is entertaining as well as educational. Frankly, it is the wake-up call that we have needed and one that has been well past its due.
In an interview with Thrillist, Riley discussed how he drawn on his own experience of telemarketing stating that “I think what made it work for me was that I had lived it. I could talk about it and connect those details to my larger ideas.” The first rule I was taught in screenwriting class was to drawn on experience and by doing so, your script is stronger because there’s a sense of reality to it.
As Riley went on to say in the interview; “my experiences to talk about bigger ideas, that’s when I knew that I could bend reality to point out those things.” A good screen-writer will be willing to take risks and bend the reality that surrounds them, and that’s what Riley has done here, and the end result is a film which takes you to places that may seem familiar but aren’t what they seem.
I can’t even begin to tell you how refreshing it is to have a film like Sorry to Bother You be released. The witty dialogue will be quoted for years to come, and I bet that we are all going to be discussing that ending for years to come! What makes Sorry to Bother You such a strong screenplay is that we can tell it is a personal film and has an element of truth at its core which makes it even more authethic and effective as a text. There really isn’t another film quite as original as Sorry to Bother You, and that’s why it deserves Best Original Screenplay.