Monday, 15 October 2018

LFF 2018: Sorry To Bother You
& Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Sorry To Bother You
dir. Boots Riley, USA, 2018
Sorry To Bother You is rapper Boots Riley's first film, and you have to wonder if he thought it might also be his last, because it feels like he's lobbed every idea he ever had at the screen in case he never gets the chance to use any of them again. It's a wild ride, and much of the madness lands, but it really needs to calm down a bit and decide what it is. Lakeith Stanfield stars as a call centre drone desperate to improve his lot, but when he's offered a promotion he finds himself torn between solo success and sticking up for his downtrodden cold-calling comrades. That synopsis, however, is like describing Donald Trump as the President of the United States: the actual thing is a thousand times less predictable than that suggests, and considerably more insane.

It seems safe to describe Sorry To Bother You as a freewheeling satirical comedy about capitalism and solidarity, but Riley's voice feels too unique to spend all that time and effort on a message as banal as "capitalism is bad". Entwined within that are a wealth of observations about the modern black experience too, and I can't speak to how successful that is, but it doesn't have anything like the laser-guided effect on this painfully white dude that another Stanfield-starring film, Get Out, did. Riley's approach, however, is admirable, in that there isn't really anything else to compare it to (the closest I can think of is Gregg Araki's brand of casual weirdness), and God knows we need more loud voices like that to yell us out of our cultural torpor.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead
dir. Ben Wheatley, UK, 2018
I approach Ben Wheatley's films with an increasing sense of trepidation these days, having come to the conclusion that the emperor's clothes might just be, if not totally non-existent, considerably threadbare at the least. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that, although this one goes to the same place that most of his films do - i.e. nowhere - the journey was a lot more fun than usual.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is set entirely at a New Year's Eve party where a single, extended family and a handful of friends gather to annoy the absolute tits off each other, as families are wont to do. And that's really about it, except that Wheatley and his cast nail the simmering tension of enforced family festivities with an uncomfortable accuracy. The power politics of familial hierarchies on display are almost Shakespearean, which makes perfect sense when you know that the film's original title was Colin, You Anus, because it's loosely based on old bardy chops' Coriolanus.

If Wheatley's film has a USP, it's the incredible cross-cutting that he and his editor (one Ben Wheatley) use to hop impatiently between no fewer than eighteen characters of more-or-less equal importance, lending a hugely cinematic rhythm to an almost comically prosaic story. The success of that nimble-footed dancing between a diverse cast and their intertwining narrative threads means that Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is basically the Avengers: Infinity War of 21st century British social realism, only with the added bonus of Charles Dance in a twinset and pleated skirt.

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