Looking For Eric

“I am not a man. I am Cantona”.
So says twinkle-eyed football superstar Eric Cantona when asked what kind of man he is. It’s a proud moment that almost lifts Ken Loach’s latest flick, Looking For Eric, out of the clichéd surrounds it so firmly sits in. It should come as no surprise the game, with teamwork being its key, features so heavily in the back and foregrounds since it played such a key element in two similarly gritty Loach films, Kes and My Name Is Joe.

Postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is having a breakdown. When we first meet him, he causes an accident after driving the wrong way into a roundabout. We soon learn of his disastrous home life which consists of a rundown terrace he shares with his two disrespectful teenage sons, Jess (Stephen Gumbs) who wags school regularly and Ryan (Gerard Kearns) who’s involved with a local criminal. When his co-workers come to visit, they unearth a pile of undelivered mail (a chilling sight) then slowly try to prop him up again. Eric’s depression stems from the reappearance of his former wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop) who he walked out on 30 years ago and strangely seems not to have sighted since. They share a daughter, now a mother herself, and they agree to share babysitting duties in order to help their daughter complete her studies. Only visible to Eric, Cantona appears and launches him onto the road to recovery.
The quietly powerful scenes Evets and Cantona share are beautifully played and the message, a step-by-step program on taking control of your life, plays at a universal level. Disappointingly, while Looking For Eric has its heart in the right place, the rest of the tale plays on autopilot. True, it’s exciting watching this downtrodden man take back control (watch for when he prepares his own dinner) but there’s little here that feels fresh or original and that’s where Loach’s film falls down. His attempt to meld the fantasy of Cantona’s appearances with the gutsy realism of Bishop’s circumstances feels too forced and while the third act, which involves the criminal’s comeuppance and an army of postal workers in masks, does enthral it feels like another movie altogether.
If you’re a devotee of the sport, you’ll be wowed by Cantona’s appearance and the various footage of his extraordinary prowess. Bearded and occasionally veering off into inaudible French, his life guru is a charismatic presence and he towers over Evets in every way. Intensely likable, he’s the Eric to look for.
Michael Dalton

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