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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
On the surface, the film tells the story of Cassius ‘Cash’ Green', a philosophically inclined Oakland kid living in his uncle’s garage and four months late on his rent. He worries to his activist artist girlfriend about the nature of existence and whether anything he does will matter. It’s a state of mind that only darkens when, to solve his economic woes, he takes a telemarketing job.
One of the first signs that this film is a bird of a different feather arrives when Cash makes his first cold call. He is magically transported, desk and all, to the home of whomever picks up. Like nearly every joke in this movie, this one is inventive, absurd, and packs an unexpected emotional punch.
From there, things get really nuts. A co-worker advises that the key to telemarketing success is using a “white voice”— i.e., “talking like you don’t have a care in the world.” Soon, Cash is speaking with the voice and it’s an ability that allows him entrée to a golden elevator, achieving the exalted state of “power caller”. Now, instead of encyclopaedias, Cash is peddling slave labour to corporations, the film’s clever way of targeting manufacturing’s current race to the bottom (especially among gadget makers like Apple).
Oakland-based musician and first time writer-director Boots Riley has an agile imagination that is matched by breath taking self-assurance, along with a revolutionary zeal equalled by a wicked sense of humour. When he takes on the appropriation of black culture, he does so in an explosively funny scene where the un-rhythmic Cash is coerced by his boss, Steve Lift, to rap at a party. He gives his white audience what he perceives they want (and he’s right). Riley’s targets grow more numerous as his film gallops to its rollicking conclusion, and the whole time his aim stays true.