Sorry We Missed You finds Ken Loach taking on the gig economy and the Sisyphean struggle it inflicts.
For over fifty years now, Ken Loach has specialized in socially conscious dramas about working class British folk, and in our current economically fraught times, Loach’s films have particularly acute relevance. Still, at 83 years old, the power of Loach’s visualizations of these issues remains undimmed, and in recent years he’s delivered some of his finest work. That includes his latest film, Sorry We Missed You, a blistering indictment of the gig economy, where being an “independent contractor” is sold to people as a way to be your own boss but in fact proves to be an illusion, and actually traps many into high-pressure, inadequately compensated positions, with none of the protections of regularly employed work. The film goes about its indictments through the close observation of a single family being undone by these nefarious practices.
Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen), a laborer who’s proud to have never been on the dole, seeks to get his family out of debt and move them out of rental housing and into their own home. To this end, Ricky signs up to be a van driver for a package delivery company that uses independent contractors instead of regular employees. Ricky sells the family car to purchase a van for the deliveries, and thereafter embarks on long, stress-filled days getting packages to customers, accompanied by a GPS scanner that constantly tracks his location. It’s appropriately called a “gun,” since it’s a weaponized form of surveillance, determining both earnings and sanctions for not meeting delivery goals. Ricky’s harried work life is crosscut with that of his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood), who, similar to Ricky, is contracted as an in-home caretaker to a revolving set of clients. She cares for them as if they were her own family, and while she has good relations and camaraderie with her clients, she feels increasingly stretched thin and frazzled. Ricky and Abby’s long working hours leave them precious little time to look after their two kids, who are developing their own problems. The beautifully written screenplay by regular Loach collaborator Paul Laverty gives us a visceral sense of the fragility of the family’s economic and emotional situation, where even the smallest crisis threatens to completely upend their well-being. The quietly shattering conclusion shows us what the gig economy has wrought for those trapped within it: the all-encompassing pressure of work and an unending Sisyphean struggle for survival.
Published as part of March 2020’s Before We Vanish.