MPAA Rating: NR | Rating: ★★½
Release year: 2019
Genre: Drama Director: Ken Loach
After 50 years of making movies, English director Ken Loach just keeps making the same film. His exemplary debut feature film from 1969, Kes, is a powerfully bleak tale about a small corner of northern England working-class society with a not-too-subtle left-leaning political message. It’s an incredible work of art, and terribly depressing. In Loach’s latest, Sorry We Missed You, the technology is newer and the context is the gig economy, but the problems, as well as Loach’s approach, remain the same. The film centers on a working-class family trying to make ends meet as both parents work long hours in thankless jobs, culminating in a tragic denouement which leaves one feeling helpless. Loach captures their daily drudgery via middling cinematography and unsurprising dialogue; it’s the same old story, told the same way.
The family of four consists of father Ricky (Kris Hitchen), kindhearted mother Abby (Debbie Honeywood), rebellious teenage son Seb (Rhys Stone), and the cute, intelligent 11-year-old Liza Jane (Katie Proctor). Yet this is mostly Ricky’s story; the film opens and closes on images of him as he begins working for a depot as a delivery driver. He’s the scruffy guy in the van carrying the Amazon parcels you and I receive when we buy things online, asking us to sign on the electronic keypad before he’s off to make another delivery. Ricky is surrounded by expensive merchandise that he’ll never own, dropping off items to places all over northern England (the film was shot near Newcastle upon Tyne). The surly, muscular man who runs the depot, Mahoney (Ross Brewster), tells Ricky that this job sets apart the warriors from the boys; they call it “onboarding,” as it’s essentially contract work, with Ricky supposedly as his own boss. This means no insurance, no paychecks (they’re called “fees”) and no workers’ rights. This also means Mahoney can work Ricky for 14 hours a day, then charge him a £100 fine if he comes in late the next day. It becomes a cycle of endless work, with Ricky scrambling to keep up.
In her own thankless job as an in-home carer for elderly and disabled patients, Abby spoon feeds and wipes the asses of her clients. Her kindness helps her endure it all, but one can tell that it’s wearing her down. With Ricky and Abby working until late, Seb and Liza Jane are left to fend for themselves. Liza is capable and confident–in a delightful sequence, she joins her dad for a day on the job, the pair running from door to door with a sense of glee. Seb is a typical troubled teenager, expressing his autonomy from his parents via graffiti art and skipping school. As Seb’s increasing rebellion merits further attention from his already-overbooked parents, it takes a toll both on their familial relationships and their financial security.
Sorry We Missed You feel derivative of everything Loach has previously done without really saying anything new about the gig economy it aims to critique. It is thankfully less didactic than some of his previous films, but the narrative itself is so predictable and stereotyped as to become a sort of farce of a Loach film. What would a rebellious teenager do? Well, how about graffiti? What should the evil employer be like? How about a giant angry bald man? There aren’t any bold or brash moments either formally or narratively. As things continue down the expected path, the late-act cathartic moments are only somewhat affecting, hampered by their obviousness, and by Loach’s framing. In a scene where Liza Jane confesses something important to her parents, the camera stays mostly on her, but cuts to Ricky at awkward moments and at a strange angle, distracting from what could have been a significant emotional moment. Both Hitchen and Honeywood give solid performances, particularly the latter, who has two of the best scenes in the film. In one, an elderly client brushes her hair while Abby gently cries; in another, Abby’s carefully hidden exasperation finally explodes over the phone in a curse-filled rant, one which made the Cannes audience applaud.
Perhaps someone experiencing the loss of a job or the pressures of the gig economy will appreciate Sorry We Missed You. To be honest, it was difficult for me to empathize with the poor family’s plight of contract employment when they own better iPhones than I do (my wife and I both presently do contract work, me with writing and teaching, her with data entry for a non-profit organization). “I have no choice! I have to work!” yells a battered Ricky at his family as he climbs once more into his delivery van. If this is Loach’s thesis–that we have no choices, no autonomy, no self-determination in our present economic system, and so we might as well just give up–then it’s told in a strikingly traditional and ordinary manner, one which ironically seems to support the status quo. I had hoped for the affecting, rebellious bravura of Kes, but this feels like the work of someone who has been making films for half a century and might be getting tired. It’s reminiscent of the book of Ecclesiastes: there is nothing new under the sun.
“What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? […] What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8359816/