Looking for Eric
Details: (R18+), 119 mins, In Cinemas 24 September 2009, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: Life has handed postal worker and soccer fanatic Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) a yellow card. He can’t keep up the pace at work, his teenage stepsons have taken over the house, and babysitting duties for his independent daughter have bought him back into contact with her mother whom he deserted long-ago. Convinced he’s been relegated to the minor league, Eric becomes increasingly immobilised by depression. Then in moves Eric Cantona, hero and adopted alter-ego, to make the save. Cantona ‘appears’ like a grown-up imaginary friend whenever Eric needs a little lifecoaching.
Whimsical tale of two Erics is a winner.
The tale of a depressed Mancunian working stiff whose chaotic life is put back on track by soccer legend Eric Cantona, Looking for Eric kicks a lot of goals: it’s funny, sad, touching and warm-hearted.
It’s also maverick director Ken Loach’s most uplifting, optimistic and entertaining movie in many years, a marked change of tone in a career characterized by gritty, downbeat dramas. An artful mix of fantasy, comedy and drama, this film is likely to appeal to a broader audience who wouldn’t normally flock to Loach’s serious and more demanding works.
The clever screenplay by longtime Loach collaborator Paul Laverty centres on Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a postal worker who’s having a nervous breakdown, with good cause. His second wife shot through seven years ago, leaving him to care for two layabout stepsons from different fathers, Ryan (Gerard Kearns) and Jess (Stefan Gumbs), who treat him like a doormat. Eric still pines for his first wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop), whom he walked out on 30 years ago, just after their daughter Sam was born. Now with a baby daughter of her own, University student Sam (Lucy-Jo Hudson) needs the support of both parents. Eric initially tries to mend fences with Lily but she rejects him, understandably puzzled about why he ditched her all those years ago.
Eric’s well-meaning postie mates led by Meatballs (John Henshaw) try to rally him, hilariously using self-help books, to no avail. Then, while Eric is smoking a joint and talking to a life-size poster of his Manchester United hero Cantona in his bedroom, something magical happens: Cantona materializes, and over the course of the movie becomes Bishop’s life coach, personal trainer, psychologist and philosopher-friend. The Frenchman appears to Bishop every night and follows him on his postal rounds dispensing advice, some of which audiences might find hard to follow, given his thick accent. The two Erics make a lot of progress, while the frosty relationship between Eric and Lily begins to thaw.
That’s until Ryan gets mixed up with a local thug/psychopath, leading to an over-the-top confrontation and a riff on urban violence that are out of kilter with the earlier gentle, realistic events.
In his first leading role, Evets is a revelation as the scruffy underdog Eric, a gruff but tender performance, and he develops an excellent rapport with Cantona, who also served as an executive producer. The former champion, who retired in 1997, shows a welcome willingness to mock his image, intoning phrases such as, “I am not a man. I am Cantona.” Soccer fans will revel in watching clips of some of his most memorable goals.
Stephanie Bishop is wonderful as the long-neglected Lily, and the film’s best scenes dwell on the twists and turns of her relationship with Eric. Henshaw gets some of the funniest lines, such as confusing the ubiquitous YouTube with “a new kind of Brylcreem.”
Loach and Laverty can’t resist a dig at how corporate greed has largely taken control of Premier League football from its grassroots supporters, as the posties bitterly note they can’t afford to attend many matches and owners can buy and sell teams on a whim.
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