Ken Loach, England’s great social realist director, will turn eighty-three next month, and he’s seen fourteen of his features invited to the competition in Cannes. He’s won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize, twice, first with The Wind That Shakes the Barley in 2006, and again ten years later with I, Daniel Blake. Make what you will of the fact that, so far, his latest entry, Sorry We Missed You, is being greeted overall with more enthusiasm by British critics than by their American counterparts.
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin argues that Sorry “finds Loach at his most insightful and clear-eyed—cinema’s most venerable anatomist of British working-class life once again taking up his scalpel to diagnose some new malady and enumerate its symptoms and causes.” This year, it’s the “zero-hour contract,” a term more common in the UK than in the U.S., where we tend to speak more generally of the “gig economy.” Ricky (Kris Hitchen) lost his job in construction and a shot at buying a house when the financial crisis hit in 2008. He finds work at a delivery company, and rather than rent a van at an exorbitant rate, he persuades his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood) to sell the car she needs as a contract nurse and in-home caregiver so that he can buy one. Both are essentially freelancers with zero benefits, working from dawn to dusk with little time and less energy left at the end of each day for their son and daughter. “The more they fight to change their circumstances, the worse those circumstances become,” writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. “The subject matter may be grim but the storytelling is utterly absorbing.”
For the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, Sorry is even better than I, Daniel Blake, “more dramatically varied and digested, with more light and shade in its narrative progress and more for the cast to do collectively. I was hit in the solar plexus by this movie, wiped out by the simple honesty and integrity of the performances.” Sorry comes in for more high praise from the BFI’s Geoff Andrew, CineVue’s John Bleasdale, and Time Out’s Dave Calhoun, and Screen’s Lee Marshall deems it “easily one of Loach’s very best films.” Not every British critic is on board, though. Reviewing Sorry for Little White Lies, Adam Woodward argues that “its focus is too shallow, its mode of storytelling too blunt-edged,” and at Cineuropa, Kaleem Aftab finds that the “schematic nature of Ricky’s demise is too on the nose and predictable.”
For more in this vein, we turn to the Americans. “As a stripped-down, minutely detailed portrait of the daily grind as back-breaking Sisyphean ordeal, Sorry We Missed You is engrossing and bluntly persuasive,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. “I was less convinced by the family dynamics, particularly those involving Ricky and Abby’s troubled teenage son (Rhys Stone), who’s moody and rebellious in ways that many parents will recognize, but whose emotional trajectory seems to fluctuate conveniently at a screenwriter’s whim.” At the A.V. Club, A. A. Dowd argues that “Loach doesn’t know when to say when. He continues to labor under the misconception that he has to drop the whole weight of the world onto his characters—to turn them into everyday martyrs, crushed into fine dust by the grinding wheels of misfortune—to get his impassioned message across.”