“Sorry We Missed You” (U.K.) – 55th Chicago Film Festival #5

“Sorry We missed You” (U.K.)
Directed by Ken Loach

SWMY_DAY_3_079__c__Joss_Barratt-2000-2000-1125-1125-crop-fillI don’t know. Call me crazy, but I love Ken Loach films. Let’s be frank, they’re kind of a genre unto themselves. Technically “slice-of-life” films, to me they epitomize what it means to take a deep dive in to the psyche, emotions and existential “wtf?!” of the working-class…those bearing the crushing weight of living below the poverty line with very little hope of getting to that light at the end of the tunnel. True, these films don’t lend themselves to the thrilling, or even, some would say, the interesting. But to me, his characters are so fleshed out, and, much more often than not, so is the acting, I find myself completely suckered in almost every time.

This is essentially true of his latest, “Sorry We Missed You”, scripted amiably by long-time collaborator, Paul Laverty (and based on a true story…naturally). Lacking the caper aspect that made 2012’s “The Angel’s Share” more audience-friendly, “Sorry…” is more interested in crafting a story revolving around how the gig-economy, and social media, have created a massive divide amongst not just the haves and have-nots, but between struggling parents and their social media-savvy children. So, yes, at its core it’s a simple film about a father/delivery guy who…uh…delivers things and a mother/caretaker who takes care of those who can’t take care of themselves. But it’s within the intersection of their anxieties and our own that the film does the work of drawing us in and keeping us there (although, I’m willing to admit that, in this regard, I should speak for myself).

This is not to say the film is devoid of humor. On the contrary, it is often very, very funny. Taking advantage of all that befalls a delivery guy as he tries to juggle impossible delivery quotas, time constraints and the various personalities he encounters along the way, Loach and Laverty have tons of space to let humor in. In fact, there is one such interaction that is amongst the funniest things I saw at this year’s Fest. But, these are mere moments that make the lives on-screen seem more real. And while they are certainly welcome, they never interfere with the film’s overarching agenda. What does interfere, however, is the how the family’s dynamic plunges in to utter soap at the film’s end. It’s not enough to have ruined the film for me, but it is jarring and must be mentioned.

Thankfully, and totally in fitting with Loach’s offerings, the actors who inhabit these roles are tremendous. Kris Hitchen (the delivery guy), in what seems to be his debut as a lead in a feature, is terrific. The angst and worry of his life is etched in every crevice of his face…as is his inability to overcome its weight when faced with trying to maintain an even keel as a father. But it is Debbie Honeywood who, with almost no film or TV credits to her name, is the glue that holds this thing together. She’s incredible…heartbreaking, strong, and so very human, the film is alive whenever she is on screen. The kids in the film, Katie Proctor and Rhys Stone (also making their debuts) seem to be a real part of this world and this family. But it is Ross Brewster (also, somehow making his debut), as Hitchen’s boss, who practically steals the film with his combination of self-inflated bravado and faux empathy.

On the production side, almost every artist involved has worked with Loach forever, including cinematographer, Robbie Ryan. While his querilla-style street shots lend themselves to the film’s larger universe, he seems utterly handcuffed by Loach’s reliance on dinner table and bedroom scenes, which seem almost film-schoolesque in the quality of their framing. But props to the entire camera department for shooting a third of the film in the middle of Newcastle traffic without, it seems, closing the streets.

Listen, I know, I know…Loach’s work is not for everyone. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch an hour and three quarter film about a delivery guy and an adult diaper changer? But for those of you who want their characters so real they seem like friends, you could do so much worse than “Sorry We Missed You”.

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