“Sorry We Missed You:” How Self-Destruction is Sometimes the Only Means of Survival

If you are looking for a light-hearted movie experience, this film is not for you. “Sorry We Missed You” is not for the faint of heart. Divergent from the Hollywood blockbusters of today, this heart-breaking film tells of the inherent drama and devastation that exists in the lives of ordinary people trying to make ends meet.

The critically acclaimed film revolves around an English family recovering from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, struggling to find their footing in Northern England after losing their house. Ricky Turner, the father of the impoverished household, finds a job as a delivery driver in the gig economy. The job is marketed as becoming an “owner” of your own delivery business. To Ricky — who’s desperate to find a job with more autonomy and leverage than an average blue-collar position — these words are music to his ears. After convincing his wife Abbie to sell their only car in exchange for a towering white van, Ricky invests his all, both money and time, into building his delivery “business.” However, slowly but surely, the deceitful veil of a personal “business” dissolves as Ricky’s inhumane work schedule collides with his priorities as a father, revealing his employer Maloney to be the ruthless carpetbagger he truly is.

Ken Loach, the British director of “Sorry We Missed You” and a two-time Palme D’Or winner at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, is widely known for his humanist approach to filmmaking. His extensive filmography alongside longtime collaborator Paul Laverty covers numerous social issues that shed a spotlight on ordinary and working-class people, instead of the lives of glamorous stars or larger-than-life superheroes that Hollywood would have you drool over. For a director always concerned with the marginalized and the voiceless, “Sorry We Missed You” is no different.

While Ricky’s struggles as a delivery driver take up the bulk of the film’s plot, the familial struggle serves as the nucleus of the story. The scramble to stay afloat is fiercely felt by all four family members. Ricky’s wife Abbie works day and night as a caregiver for the sick and elderly, where her relentless kindness is taken advantage of rather than rewarded by her employers. Appalled after learning about Abbie’s horrendous schedule, her client asks: “7:30 in the morning til nine at night. What happened to the eight-hour day?”  

With no time to properly take care of their children, Ricky and Abbie’s son Seb finds himself constantly running into trouble with his illegal graffiti work. And every time he’s caught, the consequences are felt by everyone in the family as the Turners are forced to take time away from work, piling more debt onto their already large amount to do damage control. With so many stresses upon each family member, their family unit is stretched to a breaking point as their fiscal safety nets crumble beneath them.

Realism is part and parcel of the artistic integrity Loach maintains throughout the film. Its bare-bones presentation can easily be mistaken for a documentary. There are wide shots galore and no fancy camera movements or techniques to be found. Instead, movements on the screen are dynamic as characters freely enter and exit the frame; the camera is seemingly uninterested in tracking their movements. Instead, the camera takes on an objective view and is patient with its cuts. Unlike the Hollywood standard of cutting practically every blink of an eye, each shot lingers in this film. As the famous French New Wave pioneer Jean Luc Godard once said, “every cut is a lie.” And this film does its best to tell the truth of its characters. An example of true fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, “Sorry We Missed You” doesn’t rely on cheap film techniques to squeeze out an emotional response from its viewers. Loach clearly knows this story is most powerful when left alone.

Throughout my viewing, I couldn’t shake off its similarity to a certain delivery service company that has taken the world by storm. During one of Ricky’s delivery trips, he barely manages to escape a hellhound of a dog, narrowly escaping with a gaping bite to his thigh. The recent news that broke out about an Amazon driver mauled to death by two dogs brings an alarming real-life comparison to how the situation could’ve gone terribly wrong. Additionally, Ricky is tasked with keeping his “black box” happy, a multi-purpose device meant to scan documents, track your location, and time your occasional two minute breaks. Invasive as it is suffocating, the movie makes you rethink the convenience of checking the location of your delivery packages and its possible implications on the vicious working conditions of delivery drivers.

Even without the direct similarity between Ricky’s work and the well-documented plight of Amazon delivery drivers here in the states, the uphill battle that the underprivileged family fights against the callous elite is a universal struggle that transcends nationality. Only their familial bond persists through thick and thin amidst their financial turmoil. Through the lens of a down-and-out family trying to survive, “Sorry We Missed You” is a poignant case study driven by the illusion of choice, the lies of solicitude, and the falsehood of dreams.

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