In a new world where mega-corporations run the world and are bigger than ever before, it’s becoming harder to levy legitimate criticism towards these parables of late-stage capitalism because…well…these corporations also own distribution companies. Amazon has its own Amazon Studios and Facebook now has a Facebook Watch streaming service. Many distributors, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Disney, have become so massive in their own right that the direct criticism of this ugly system is often times problematic and can be tough to get out there. This is no more apparent than with Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, a scathing look at the reality of life at the bottom of the totem pole in the companies that we hold as so necessary to modern life.
Set in modern-day Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sorry We Missed You follows Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen), an unemployed laborer who finds a new job as an independent contractor for PDF (Parcels Delivered Fast). At home, he’s supported by his wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), a home care nurse, as well as their young daughter, Liza Jane (Katie Proctor), and their delinquent teenage son, Seb (Rhys Stone). While up-front costs are expensive, Ricky is excited about the freedom seemingly offered by the company and the time he will get to spend with his family. Soon enough, though, he begins to realize that he is viewed only as an expendable cog in the vast machine of a corporate powerhouse. He finds that to survive, he must hit impossible goals with long hours and no reprieve for the personal crises that soon fall upon his family.
In blunt terms, Sorry We Missed You is like a bleaker, far less interesting version of Parasite in how it details the life of a working-class family in the age of immense technological advances. While Sorry We Missed You is a far more grounded, less twisting story than Parasite, it often seems to hit the same points in its scathing, far more straightforward criticism of hyper-wealthy and the effects it takes on low-income families. Loach, known mostly for his Palme d’Or winning film, I, Daniel Blake, is a master at slice-of-life storytelling, including every aspect of the good and the bad of the mundanity of domestic life. His utilization of unknown, first-time actors keeps the film feeling authentic and grounded, placing the audience right in the center of the film’s proceedings. The film is also structured the way life can oftentimes be: random, unrelenting, intimate, frustrating.
This presents Sorry We Missed You with both its blessing and curse.
Slice-of-life can be great, and I do appreciate a film that goes out of its way to subvert the expectation of how a film is expected to play out. Sorry We Missed You does this in spades, but, in doing so, it doesn’t provide the viewer with much to hold onto once the final credits roll. It’s a film that ends up not necessarily leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth, but leaves more of an absence of any taste whatsoever. The film ends up with the feeling that what we’ve watched was all for naught, and that life, however grand, is inconsequential. I’m not one to think that all films should have a happy ending, nor am I one that revels at films that have dark endings, but Sorry We Missed You develops into neither of those things. It feels like a look into normal life for mostly all the wrong reasons. There’s no structure to the film that does a lot of work to be a powerful message on the state of poverty and can leave audiences feeling empty-handed.
That being said, there are a lot of objective elements about Sorry We Missed You that do work independently of one another. The strongest asset of the film definitely lies in its main cast. Not a single person in the main cast has acted in a major film before, but you could tell me otherwise and I would still believe you. Hitchen is as believably tense as any man at the end of his rope could be. It’s not a quiet performance by any means, but it’s one with a sense of vulnerability that you don’t often get from a character who acts in the role of a patriarch. He is the head of the household, but not from his own choosing, nor does he assert his dominance within the family for the sake of showboating. This is a man who simply is looking to survive, and cares to bring his family along with him. On the other end, Honeywood’s take on the matriarch is one that hits a bit more in the gut, in the traditional sense, at least. As someone whose mother is a nurse of over 33 years, I’m very aware of the delicate balance that has to be made in being a tender caretaker while refusing to take any shit from anyone who gives it to you. It’s rare to see a nurse on-screen that finds that balance as a person, rather than just being a heroic lifesaver always working in hectic emergency rooms. Honeywood seems to understand this and it comes across really wonderfully in her performance.
Loach and cinematographer Robbie Ryan (who is also Andrea Arnold’s frequent collaborator) also know how to shoot a movie. This is not a traditionally pretty film by any means. Newcastle’s subdued architecture is beautiful but aging and gray, which doesn’t open the film up to be much of a visual splendor. Rather, Ryan focuses on the diaspora of intimacy and the distance in the framing between characters. It doesn’t seek to overload the viewer with close, inward shots of the characters, and knows when to back up and let them be when the film needs to convey the emotional distance that plagues many of the relationships in the film’s final act.
Sorry We Missed You simply feels unwilling to tell a cohesive story. It feels all too inconsequential for the type of message it seems to be wanting to get across. The performances are fabulous and the aesthetics of the film are strong and grounded, but it comes at the cost of the film’s vitality. It has shades of greatness in its DNA, but unfortunately, despite a number of great elements working independent from one another, it doesn’t mesh into an experience that feels cohesive. Sorry We Missed You missed me.
Sorry We Missed You has screened at select festivals since May 16th, 2019.
U.S. release planned for March 6th, 2020.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.