Plot: A darkly-comedic fantastical coming-of-age joyride about Cootie, a 13-foot-tall young Black man in Oakland, CA. Having grown up hidden away, passing time on a diet of comic books and TV shows, he escapes to experience the beauty and contradictions of the real world. He forms friendships, finds love, navigates awkward situations, and encounters his idol, the real life superhero named The Hero. I’m A Virgo is a mythical odyssey that questions the purpose of the mythical odyssey.
Review: Boots Riley’s feature film directional debut, Sorry To Bother You, was a festival darling when it premiered in 2018. It has taken Riley half a decade to bring his sophomore effort to the screen. I’m A Virgo is a seven-episode series premiering on Prime Video, which has given Riley three times as much space to tell an epic and surreal story that is part fairy tale, part parable, and utterly unique. Evoking the same off-kilter filmmaking style as his feature film debut, Riley has delivered one of the weirdest streaming series in recent memory that pulls together statements on unemployment, racial bias, exploitation, and class warfare within the guise of a comic book-themed superhero adventure. I’m A Virgo is weird and weirdly wonderful.
Set in present-day Oakland, California, I’m A Virgo opens with the birth of an extremely large baby. Taken in by his Aunt Lafrancine (Carmen Ejogo) and Uncle Marisse (Mike Epps), the infant is named Cootie. Growing up in seclusion so that no one learns of his shocking size, Cootie is taught to fear the outside world. Becoming well-read and intelligent, Cootie grows to thirteen feet tall. When he is 19, Cootoe (Jharrel Jerome) yearns to explore the world and try a hamburger from fast food restaurant Bing Bang Burger. Francine and Martisse tell Cootie he cannot leave until he is twenty-one, but Cootie sees The Hero (Walton Goggins), a comic book writer turned real superhero, and wants to be free. Eventually, Cootie sneaks out, befriends a trio of people his age, and develops a crush on Bing Bang employee Flora (Olivia Washington).
As he explores more of the world, Cootie learns about the oppression of Oakland and surrounding neighborhoods. As his legend grows, Cootie becomes increasingly famous and a target for everything from celebrity agents to a cult awaiting the return of a giant to the world. There is a secret about Cootie and his origin that could change his life forever. Over the course of the season, clues and twists reveal an endgame that will take Cootie from a freak and an anomaly to a central figure in his own comic book adventure come to life. This comes with a heavy dose of satire, parody, spoof, and political commentary reminiscent of Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You blended with a take on Marvel and DC-style origin stories. I’m A Virgo also takes the ideas and themes from Boots Riley’s debut and ups the ante with a larger storytelling sandbox, thanks to Amazon Studios.
There is so much going on in each half-hour episode of I’m A Virgo that I expect some viewers to be turned off by the weirdness on display. The story moves at a unique pace, often taking detours to allow Cootie to explore the world. A lot of time is dedicated to his friends Felix (Brett Gray), Scat (Allius Barnes), and a sensational turn by Kara Young as Jones. The sweet relationship between Cootie and Flora is also a welcome element to the plot, but one of the best roles belongs to the fantastic Walton Goggins as Jay Whittle. From his very first scene holding a gun to his head, Goggins exudes energy few other actors can, and it works perfectly in the world Riley has created here. I’m A Virgo feels at home with the films of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, and more while thriving on an energy wholly unique from those acclaimed directors.
From his roots as a musician, Boots Riley brings a rhythm and beat to I’m A Virgo that imbues the series with a look and feel that is at once expertly crafted with an air of DIY creativity. The set designs blend the large scale of Cootie’s perspective with the standard size of the rest of the world, while the special effects and production design reminded me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. Riley’s musical group, The Coup, lends music to the series along with indie band Tune-Yards. While Riley directs all seven episodes, he shares writing credits with Tze Chun (Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai), Marcus Gardley (The Chi), Michael R. Jackson, and Whitney White. The story of I’m A Virgo practically defies categorization, at once every genre and a new approach altogether.
The messages conveyed in I’m A Virgo range from subtle to blatant, but none feel heavy-handed or too on the nose. This series may be too bizarre for mainstream audiences, but those willing to take a chance on this series are sure to be enamored with this story. Boots Riley took half a decade to follow up Sorry To Bother You, and I am glad he did not sacrifice his vision to try and fit this story into a feature film. I’m A Virgo is very funny, sweet, weird, and altogether special in a way that very few series or films get to be these days. I hope I’m A Virgo ends up clicking with more audiences than I expect, as this will surely become one of the most acclaimed series of the year.
I’m A Virgo premieres on June 23rd on Prime Video.