Boots Riley’s debut film ‘Sorry to Bother You’ receives standing ovation in Oakland

Boots Riley, longtime frontman of Oakland hip-hop collective The Coup, screened his debt film Sorry to Bother You at the San Francisco International Film Festival Thursday night at Grand Lake Theater. He brought on stage from the cast Terry Crews, a magnetic Jermaine Fowler, and Oakland actor Michael Sommers (excellent as a dour telemarketing boss with face tattoos) and received a proud standing ovation from his hometown.

Amongst festival goers, locals, and fans, Oakland’s Tune-Yards plus film crew members were in attendance, and there was even a shoutout to Mistah F.A.B., who sat with the audience, mid-Q&A. It was also shown at the Castro Theatre, making it the first double-screening in the festival’s 61-year run.

Probably because Sorry to Bother You, in many ways, was not quite like anything else presented in the festival’s 61-year run.

Riley’s inventive, wildly ingenious script landed him a spot as resident artist at SFFilm and quickly built an incredibly stacked cast supporting Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Get Out) and Tessa Thompson (Selma, Thor) as a happy but down-on-their-luck couple living in Oakland and grappling with existential questions of mortality, purpose, and the systems in place. 

The surreal, other-worldly comedy packs an exorbitant number of surprise punches that you need to see for yourself to believe. What you can expect is gorgeously detailed mise en scène and fantastically pleasing compositions in Riley’s extraordinarily dreamed-up world.

There are some hilariously brilliant moments (a condescendingly buzzword-filled speech on the tech industry, an extremely silly password sequence, a backhanded compliment fight that doesn’t end), and poignant ones too. There’s a moment where Danny Glover gives Stanfield’s character advice that using a “white voice” is less about sounding nasally and more about selling a product like you don’t have a care in the world.

With gems like those and plenty more hidden in unexpected places throughout Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, it’s a movie that may raise questions (and some eyebrows) but demands attention, and we’re not sorry at all.

Sorry to Bother You is set for release July 6.

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