Sorry We Missed You (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Ken Loach proves once again that a filmmaker with a keen eye for detail can make any subject feel fresh and engrossing. In “Sorry We Missed You,” the veteran director fixes his lens on a British family of four who are neck-deep in debt and up to their eyeballs in stress. It is told with deep humanity, scalding honesty, great empathy for the working class, and seething anger toward a system that values profit over lives—a system that has somehow become the norm in our modern society. The picture makes the case that working people to the bone isn’t sustainable. Something has got to give.
Much of the work is composed of following the Turners’ every day lives: Ricky the delivery driver (Kris Hitchen), Abbie the home care nurse (Debbie Honeywood), Seb the increasingly rebellious son who skips school to paint graffiti (Rhys Stone), and Liza the daughter who feels helpless in preventing her family’s disintegration (Katie Proctor). The work adopts a specific rhythm depending on the person we are following. For instance, when we spend time with Abbie in various homes, it is quiet. People move and speak slowly. There is a stillness to the camera. People make eye contact. Contrast this against Ricky’s occupation: high tension, always on the run, time is money. People who receive packages cannot be bothered to say, “Thank you.”
Each member of the family is given a chance to have a mirror held up to them. Blink and you’ll miss these richly rendered moments. The viewer cannot be blamed for wanting to look away once in a while because circumstances shown therein are or were reality for most of us. I think those who come from working class families are likely to be hit quite hard.
You recognize those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night and find your parents asleep on the couch, bone tired from working all day, with the television still on. Waking up in the morning and parents having already left for work. Dragging your sibling out of bed because no one else will do it. Coming home from school and still there isn’t a soul around. There’s no food, so you pour a bowl of cereal. You must be autonomous in doing your homework. No one will breathe down your neck about it. And no one will double check your answers. Loach captures these moments with vivid clarity. He takes their time with them. It is never syrupy, never preachy. It’s just how life is for his subjects—and for the many people around us.
Especially memorable are Ricky’s interactions with his no-nonsense, unsympathetic superior. In a most matter-of-fact way, Maloney (Ross Brewster) explains to Ricky the importance of the barcode scanner, how it is essentially Ricky’s lifeline. Those waiting for their packages to arrive do not care about the deliveryman. What matters is the price of the product, knowing when the product will arrive, and getting the product in their hands. I jolted into paying attention because I recognized truths in what Maloney had to say. I feel irked when a product doesn’t arrive on time. I never consider the possibility that perhaps the person doing delivery is overwhelmed, that there might have been a family emergency, or that he or she could have encountered problems with the vehicle, or been engaged in a traffic accident.
And I think that’s the goal of this movie: To inspire us to look at ourselves, recognize our privilege, and give others a break when we can for others may be fighting battles far more challenging than ours. We might not be in control of our society or where it is heading. But we are in control of how we choose to treat others. There are times when that’s enough.
So, you see, this is not a depressing film. It is realistic, but never depressing. If it were depressing, it wouldn’t attempt to galvanize the audience to want to take control or action. The screenplay by Paul Laverty underscores the destructive impact of unquenchable capitalism on families, but it is sharp and quite skillful in taking it to the next level—how this particular story applies to everyone across the globe and among varying age groups. Do not miss it.