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Looking For Eric

By
Looking For Eric
Director: Ken Loach
Screenwriters: Paul Laverty
Starring: Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, John Henshaw, Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs, Matthew McNulty
Running time: 117 mins
Certificate: 15

Footballing icon Eric Cantona coaches a middle-aged pot-head in the game of life and gives Ken Loach a refreshing uplift as well. It was 'King Eric' who approached the kitchen-sink director with the idea of capturing the manic obsession of a football fan as the rest of his life falls apart. That hapless man, also named Eric, is played by the brilliantly unassuming Steve Evets, who takes to smoking weed as a way of coping with stress and begins seeing Cantona instead. It's a wonderfully surreal yarn which nonetheless stays rooted in the gritty real world as typically seen by Loach.

Postman Eric Bishop has lost his way, literally going off the road and nearly killing himself in the opening scene. He has two broken marriages behind him and is left with care of two step-children, Ryan and Jesse (Gerard Kearns and Stefan Gumbs), who are veering into gang life. Apart from skimming Ryan's stash of Class B drugs he consoles himself with memories of his first wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop) and replays of Eric Cantona doing the business for Manchester United in the early '90s. Fortunately he's also surrounded by a great group of friends at the sorting office, including the hilarious John Henshaw as the pseudo-intellectual Meatballs.

The camaraderie between the guys is what really ties the story together, bonded not just by their passion for Man U but a genuine affection for each another. One of the funniest, most endearing scenes finds Meatballs leading a group therapy session in Eric's living room. When Cantona finally makes his first appearance in the dim light of Eric's bedroom, it brings a different sort of familiarity and comfort (not just for Eric but for us too), like The Fonz walking onto the set of Happy Days. Despite being a little older, a little heavier and a lot hairier, his presence demands applause. So does the Gallic nonchalance with which he spouts endless platitudes, their bloated gravitas rivalling that famous quote about the seagulls following the trawler. That also means he stays remote, enigmatic; an unquestionably unreal figure.

Eric's reaction to Cantona underlines the comedy value, but that's also inherent to the pairing of these two: a no-nonsense Northerner and the flowery Frenchman. Evets even makes direct reference to the 'seagulls' quote and Cantona isn't afraid to send himself up - that is, except for a scene where he does an impression of Elvis and shies away from dancing on camera. In any case Eric derives something useful from what Cantona tells him, the most sincere of their exchanges being on the balcony of a housing estate where the legend admits to fear of the crowds going quiet. Eric makes moves towards reconciliation with Lily and, in less convincing style, takes on the street thugs who have roped Ryan into their shady dealings.

Even for the twinkle-toed legend that is Cantona, tackling the epidemic of street crime is overly ambitious, at least in a film like this. In fact he bows out for much of the final passage and his absence is acutely felt. Loach switches gear, bringing violence and ultimatums without really upping the pace. To resolve this conflict, he then reverts back to the earlier whimsy with a cheerfully madcap face-off between the post office crew and the gangsters. Because of its silliness, the film doesn't entirely work as a piece of social commentary. That doesn't matter too much; what it does do very effectively is promote a feeling that personal hardships can be overcome with a strong community network. And at the same time that wild individuality embodied by Cantona is joyous and inspiring. Like seagulls, people should be flocking to see this.


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