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Movie review: ‘Sorry We Missed You’ deftly captures working-class anxieties

Al Alexander
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A scene from "Sorry We Missed You."

A British working class family is the subject of “Sorry We Missed You,” a drama that exposes the dark side of the so-called “gig economy.” The film is available for rental via Plimoth Cinema’s virtual platform.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a film directed by 83-year-old British icon Ken Loach. It was one of his lesser movies, “Hidden Agenda,” starring a still unknown Frances McDormand in a tale about the Irish “Troubles.” But it was what happened immediately after that made what he had to say about the senselessness of war stick, and that was the bulletin coming over the radio on the way home announcing the start of America’s 1991 air assault on Baghdad.

Ever since then, Loach’s knack for timeliness has continued to impress me, through working-class classics like “Ladybird Ladybird,” “My Name Is Joe,” “Bread and Roses,” “Riff Raff” and his 2006 Cannes Film Festival-winner, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.” But the movie that shook me most was his 2016 stunner, “I, Daniel Blake,” a haunting portrait of poverty and racism that shamefully never gained a wide release in the U.S., even though it was the finest of Loach’s depictions of the U.K.’s spit-upon non-elites.

His latest, “Sorry We Missed You” about the horrors of the ever-expanding gig economy, is very much in the same league as its predecessor, raw, unflinching and disturbingly authentic. He’s even cast a host of terrific amateur actors to heighten the realism of just how vulnerable a loving family can become under assault of the callous greed of kings on high. And sadly, like “Daniel Blake,” “Sorry” is struggling to be seen, which makes it all the more important that it’s being made available for rent in the Plimoth Cinema’s virtual screening room.

It’s not to be missed, particularly now in the time of COVID-19, when no one has suffered more than members of the gig economy, the independent contractors like Uber and DoorDash drivers, freelance software engineers and anyone else eking out a living sans health insurance and various other social nets. People like the Turner family: father, Ricky (Kris Hitchen); mother, Abby (Debbie Honeywood); 15-year-old Seb (Rhys Stone) and 11-year-old Liza Jane (Katie Proctor).

Already harried and scrounging for a stable income, Ricky gets suckered into believing that buying his own delivery van and leasing himself out to a FedEx-type delivery service will be his road to riches. But it will mean trading in the family’s only car, forcing Abby to now bus all across town to perform her job as an independent caregiver to the elderly. It will also mean 14-hour days for both of them, leaving their latchkey kids to largely fend for themselves.

As anyone in the gig economy will tell you, the “independence” isn’t really independence at all, it’s just another, more taxing form of slavery under the ruthless tutelage of managers like Maloney (cop-turned-actor Ross Brewster) heaping unreasonable demands upon his fleet of “franchise” drivers. Loach and his longtime writing partner Paul Laverty convincingly lay out a scenario in which even the toughest souls are destined to burnout physically and go bonkers mentally under the unrelenting stress of a job where even a single screw up can cost you dearly, as Ricky is about to find out.

Piece by piece, we watch the Turners fray at the seams, and Loach makes you feel it to the point where you become enraged. And Hitchen and Honeywood (in her first acting gig) rattle you further with every injustice heaped upon Ricky and Abby, as the couple helplessly watch their love fray under the stress of life in a rigged economy.

Their story is set in England (albeit with much needed subtitles to ease understanding of the thick working-class accents), but the Turners could just as easily be any American in the wake of the 2008 financial crash struggling to put food on the table while also tending the ever-demanding needs of a largely unsupervised offspring, especially Seb, a budding graffiti artist who seldom fails to stop trouble from finding him. The one who breaks your heart though is the adorable ginger Liza Jane, whose one big scene is guaranteed to reduce you to tears.

She, not her parents, is the person striving to keep her crumbling family together, not by choice but by necessity. It’s a chore you wouldn’t wish on any child. But for many families the world over, it’s sadly become just another sacrifice to the ever expanding model of greed by the few at the expense of the poor. Like the ironically cute little “sorry we missed you” stick-ons Ricky leaves behind for people unable to accept his deliveries, the Haves have used that same phrase to politely excuse their exploitation of the Have-nots in the ever widening gap in the distribution of wealth. One would hope the endeavors by Loach and Laverty to expose this sickening trend will have an effect, but don’t count on it. Like the movie, there are no happy endings, just a deepening of despair.

Al Alexander may be reached at alexandercritica@aol.com.

“Sorry We Missed You”
Cast includes Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor and Ross Brewster. Available to rent in the Plimoth Cinema virtual screening room for $12.
(Not rated.)
Grade: A-