Sorry We Missed You (2020; Ken Loach)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opening Friday, March 13, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco.
Ken Loach follows his Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake with another agreeable yet biting look at dehumanized working-class Brits. You were expecting maybe a buddy-cop action-comedy? Or an erotic thriller, perhaps?
Naturally, Loach brings his trademark naturalism–little music, natural lighting, handheld cameras, simple framing, linear narrative–to this story of a tragically overworked family. And once again, rather than delivering a long-winded screed, Loach keeps things fairly amiable and loose, up until a devastating finale.
“But who feeds the robot?”
Kris Hitchen and Debbie Honeywood star as Ricky and Abbie, a struggling married couple with two children. As the film opens, Ricky takes a position with PDF (Parcels Delivered Fast!), a ruthlessly bottom line-minded delivery company. The film paints independent contractors as a new form of indentured servitude, only with a false impression of self-empowerment. Although the PDF boss assures Ricky that he will be “master of your own destiny,” it adds up to more work with fewer protections and no benefits.
Expenses mount even before Ricky’s first day, as he sells Abbie’s car to pay for a delivery van. That leaves Abbie to take the bus during her 14-hour days as a caretaker for the elderly. Meanwhile, Ricky’s entire day gets dictated by an electronic gun. “But who feeds the robot?” asks Liza Jae, Ricky’s primary school-aged daughter. Ricky can’t bear to tell her that this robot feeds on human souls. Everywhere in Sorry We Missed You, we see extreme attachments to devices corrode people’s connections to each other.
“What are we doing to each other?”
Abbie shows unbelievable patience and grace in her position, and calmly assuages her clients’ feelings of shame and humiliation. Meanwhile, Ricky encounters one irascible customer after another, exacerbating the situation with his argumentative nature. Their jobs run them ragged, while their unbelievably shitty teenage son Seb adds to the many stresses on their marriage. Although initially favored by the overbearing boss, Ricky loses his status when family troubles interfere with the deliveries.
Loach empathetically catalogs Ricky’s many humiliations, although there’s a slight disconnect between the overall aura of amiable humanism and the overheated liberal paranoia of the plot. In I, Daniel Blake, a single mother comes late to her appointment at the pension office, and a few days later, blammo, she’s a prostitute. Here, the technocrat vicissitudes of the gig economy aren’t just dehumanizing and destructive. They’re downright homicidal. However, Sorry We Missed You remains a harrowing look at a family torn apart by capitalism.