Looking For Eric

Director    Ken Loach
Starring    Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, John Henshaw, Gerard Kearns
Release    TBA (US) 12 JUN (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


16th June 2009

You wouldn't usually associate Ken Loach with the word 'heart-warming'. Heart-wrenching is more his thing. Along with Mike Leigh, Loach leads the way in gritty, depressing British cinema, but then Leigh went and surprised us all with the release of last year's Happy-Go-Lucky, an endearing film about an unflappable optimist. Now Loach has followed suit with Looking for Eric.

While it's no comedy, it's far from the pit of despair we've come to expect. Loach and Leigh - two of the nation's leading cinematic gloomsters - appear to be mellowing. What can it all mean? Perhaps as we sink further into the economic quagmire, the Godfathers of Grit have decided to give us all a break and provide a couple of hours of escapism.

Steve Evets plays Eric Bishop, a downtrodden Mancunian postman whose ex-wife has left him with two troublesome teenage stepsons. Eric's real heartache is his first wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop), who he left shortly after their daughter was born. Now, decades later, he agrees to help with child-minding his granddaughter, but this means that after 30 years apart, he must now face Lily every day. He begins to lose his grip on life and his postie friends step in to help him out. In an extremely funny scene, they all settle down with a Paul McKenna self-help book to perform an exercise to boost Eric's confidence. They must all select a personal hero and imagine looking through their eyes. Eric, a Man United fan, naturally chooses Eric Cantona.

From then on, Cantona appears to give Eric a helping hand whenever he needs it. Flawed hero and football philosopher, Cantona makes the perfect guardian angel. The script gently mocks Cantona's reputation as a philosopher, but he seems happy to go along with it. He manages to steer clear of seagull and trawler analogies, but occasionally his words get lost in a cascade of French waffle. It hardly matters. Cantona has a shimmering screen presence that is hard to ignore and he injects an element of magic into the film.

There are certain self-indulgent moments. One scene in particular seems contrived specifically for the purpose of showcasing Cantona's best Manchester United goals. It's tempting to imagine Cantona having a diva-ish strop in the editing room to ensure this was included, though the fact that he appears in a low budget Brit flick suggests he has less of an ego than we've been led to believe. "I am not a man. I am Cantona," he boasts, with a knowing grin.

Politics and social commentary are kept firmly in the background. The issue of fat cat Premier League football clubs draining the life out of good old local teams is touched on briefly, as is gang culture. But the tone is kept light and humorous with most of the laughs coming from Eric's postman posse of friends. 'Meatballs' (played by John Henshaw) is particularly marvellous and the camaraderie between the group is not only funny but also rather sweet.

Looking for Eric is an extremely satisfying film to watch. It manages to be warm and touching without any schmaltz, while the presence of Cantona adds a fairytale element. It has a certain Slumdog appeal and it's great to see once again that British cinema does not have to be either horribly bleak or inanely vacuous - take note Richard Curtis.

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