As with Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, the title of Sorry We Missed You repurposes customer service jargon to condemn the corporate meat-grinders into which workers must feed themselves, in order to feed themselves. While Riley’s title (and film) teems with caustic irony, Loach—who’s been telling versions of this story for more than 50 years (often with screenwriter Paul Laverty)—tempers his outrage with a deep well of regret for the dehumanization inherent to the gig economy.
Fed up with feast-and-famine workloads and malingering colleagues, father-of-two Ricky (Kris Hitchen, resembling a weary Damian Lewis) takes a job as a parcel courier for an Amazon-esque company that employs independent contractors (“You don’t work for us, you work with us”). What this really means is that he supplies the truck, pays the insurance, and receives crippling sanctions for late deliveries. Sold on the dream of being his own boss, he’s soon relieving himself in a water bottle so as not to fall behind, while his wife Abbie (newcomer Debbie Honeywood), an hourly-paid home-care nurse with too many clients, suffers the same squeeze of exploitation.
Anyone who’s recognized that freelancing is a losing bargain with a mendacious aura of romance and independence (akin to hobos riding the rails) can appreciate the truth of Loach’s vision. He’s the Bernie Sanders of filmmakers: he hammers us with problems we’d rather not face, and often that hammer is blunt, but his message has never wavered, and neither has his commitment.