Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 5th, 2020
Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach, 2019) 4 out of 4 stars.
British director Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake) has long trained his lens on the working class, exploring the problems of ordinary people struggling against systems that treat them like little more than tiny cogs in society’s giant wheel. In his latest work, Sorry We Missed You, he updates his perennial concerns to today’s gig economy, revealing how the more things change, the more the same people get screwed. You will never look at your Amazon drivers the same way again (I hope). Be kind to them, as they need all the sympathy they can get.
In the movie’s opening, we meet pater familias Ricky (Kris Hitchen), an amiable bloke about to make a very bad decision. Down on his luck since the 2008 global financial crisis, he is in the middle of an interview with the manager of the Newcastle branch of PDF (Parcels Delivered Fast), a mail-package dispatcher, as the image fades from black. It all sounds easy – “You don’t workforus, but withus,” says that manager, Maloney (Ross Brewster), and “within a year, you will have your own franchise” (whatever that means) – but the fear just below the surface of Ricky’s face lets us know that the slightest mishap could turn this new dream very sour. First, though, he needs a van, and the only way to get one is to sell the car that his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) uses to see the elderly patients she takes care of as a home-care nurse. Despite the risk, they sell the car.
In the beginning, though hard, the workload seems manageable, and despite the desperation of other drivers who demand lighter schedules, Ricky gets by. Abbie has it hard, however, and both are exhausted by the time they get home. That doesn’t leave them much time for their increasingly angry teen son, Seb (Rhys Stone), and sweet, but anxious, tween daughter, Liza Jae (Katie Proctor). It’s the kind of situation that might just work out if nothing goes wrong. As luck, or the lack of it, would have it, quite a few things do go wrong. It’s tough to watch these hard-working folks suffer, but that’s the thrust of what Loach does: he wants the viewer to see the real people beneath our constant crusade for greater efficiency and lower prices. As the rich get richer, the poor go insane.
In the spirit of his Italian neorealist forebears, Loach allows room for a detailed examination of the family’s quotidian life, both good and bad. They are far from perfect, but who is? And the film is far from constantly bleak, or we’d never be able to relax and understand how much is lost by the crushing grind of debt and despair. Anchored by moving performances from a remarkable group of mostly first-time actors, Sorry We Missed You (the title comes from the card the PDF guys leave behind when no one’s home) plunges us deep into the rabbit hole of twisted socio-economic policies that allow the titans of industry to prosper at the expense of everyone else. While there is no obvious solution in sight, at least this vital movie asks the questions, and that’s a great place to start.