Depressing but necessary: Sorry We Missed You

A- Drama
Written by Paul Laverty
Directed by Ken Loach

With a title like Sorry We Missed You, you’d expect a light, romantic comedy. Instead, you get something entirely different.

Imagine a food that you absolutely hate, but you eat it anyway because it’s good for you. That’s like the experience of seeing Ken Loach’s grim attack on the gig economy. This isn’t a fun movie to watch, but you’ll likely be a better person for seeing it.

Ricky (Kris Hitchen), a working-class man with mouths to feed, gets a job delivering packages. But unlike his previous jobs, he has a chance for a better life. He’s his own boss – an independent contractor. He can make his own decisions, work hard, invest some money, and eventually have others working for him.

At least that’s what he’s been told, but it’s not how the business really works. The rules force him into a metaphorical straight jacket. He must buy or lease one of the company’s trucks. He pays his own gas and insurance, but he’s not allowed to have his daughter in the van. He can’t take a day off without getting someone else to do his route – even if it’s an emergency. If he loses or damages the company’s pocket computer “gun,” he owes the company £1,000. He must work far more than a conventional job’s eight hours, but with all the expenses, he seems to be going backwards economically.

The dream, of course, is that eventually he will make a profit.

He should have known better. His wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) is a nurse, and she’s also part of the gig economy. Every day she visits her “clients,” elderly patients living at home who need her daily help. She loves them all – even the ones who hate her – because she understands. One old woman, proud of her union past, is horrified when she discovers Abbie’s 13-hour day. Ricky sold the car so he could pay for the truck, and now Abbie must do her daily rounds on the bus.

Not surprisingly, neither of them has time to take care of their two children. Their young daughter must wake them up when they fall asleep on the couch.

But the teenage boy is the real problem. He’s getting into trouble with the law. Due to his job, Ricky couldn’t attend an important meeting at the boy’s school. Tempers fray in all directions.

Sorry We Missed You contains almost no happy moments. And the few there are don’t last long. The film works like an empathy bomb, forcing you to care for the working poor. Loach stripped the film down cinematically, with little humor, documentary-like photography, and no music to comfort us. It offers no solutions. You won’t be able to think the same way about families trapped in these and similar situations.

Sorry We Missed You opens Friday TK at the Opera Plaza and the Shattuck.