At this point in his career Ken Loach is neither anybody’s fool nor anything less than what he resolutely says he is in his films—a staunch socialist muckraker with no qualms about using rough sentimentality to drive home his political points. Consequently, he’s been more appreciated and honored at continental film festivals (Cannes, especially) than he has by international critics and his fellow Brits. His latest, in fact, may be his most scathing indictment of late stage capitalism, not to mention his harshest rant against what the UK has become socioeconomically in the 21st century. Though film purists will obviously see it as yet another over-the-top screed, in light of yesterday’s general election, it comes across as nothing less than a libertarian horror movie.
Loach’s target is the gig economy. Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is a tradesman whose work fell off steeply following the 2008 recession. He’s barely managed to support his wife, Abby (Debbie Honeywood), and two kids thanks mainly to Abby’s work as a freelance home care nurse. When he’s offered the opportunity to “be his own boss” by signing a franchise deal with a delivery service, he jumps at it, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. His aim is understandable—he hopes the relative freedom of working as many hours as he can stand will finally allow him to buy a home—but his understanding of how this brave new world of zero-hour contracts works is severely lacking, and his first mistake is his biggest one. Instead of renting a truck he decides to buy one and that entails having to sell his own car, which Abby needs to get to her “clients.” Abby now has to schlep around on public transportation, which is quite difficult considering how far flung her charges are, not to mention that the nature of her work involves visiting some of those charges in the middle of the night due to emergencies she’s feels obligated to attend to out of a sense of responsibility.
So what with Ricky busting his ass to not only cover the payments on the truck but justify his taking a busy route that obliges him to follow it on the nose in order to avoid penalties, and Abby taking longer and longer to complete her rounds, their two kids, 15-year-old Seb (Rhys Stone) and 10-year-old Liza Jane (Katie Proctor), are mostly left to their own devices. In the case of Seb, that means flexing his artistic impulses for tagging, which eventually gets him in trouble with the law. Liza Jane, meanwhile, is losing it on a subtler level, wetting the bed and secretly harboring schemes to make her parents regret their employment decisions.
As with all Loach’s work with his trusted scenarist Paul Laverty, Sorry We Missed You (the title is taken from the printed notes Ricky leaves at delivery points where no one is at home) is obsessed with a naturalism that’s often too naturalistic for its own good. Ricky’s working class volatility is depicted as being as integral to his problems as are the cut-throat conditions of his “self-employment,” but despite the sometimes hackneyed displays of venom and frutration, Loach and Laverty respect the intelligence of both his characters—even the unsympathetic ones, such as Ricky’s burly supervisor—and his viewers. These are basically complicated people with complicated reasons for making decisions that turn out to be bad, which is why the discomfort that churns in your stomach with each tragic turn of events feels more terrifying than any similar sensation that hits you while watching some jump scare-riddled slasher flick. Because this shit is happening right now somewhere in the world to many, many people, and that means it could easily happen to you, too.
Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).
Sorry We Missed You home page in Japanese.
photo (c) Sixteen SWMY Limited, Why Not Productions, Les Films de Fleuve, British Broadcasting Corporation, France 2 Cinema and the British Film Institute 2019