Looking for Eric
Looking for Eric is Ken Loach’s latest film, and while one worships Ken Loach generally and his early work in particular — Cathy Come Home; Family Life; Kes; all of which will still blow your socks off today — I’m just not at all sure about this. I mean, it’s fine, and it’s good-natured enough, and it has its moments but it just seems disappointingly unoriginal; a sort of cross between The Full Monty and Play It Again, Sam leading to a finale that is so sentimental it goes beyond mawkish and may even be the full mawk. Listen, I can do the full mawk. I can take it. Didn’t I cry at the end of Marley & Me and didn’t I cry buckets? I suppose that, in this instance, I just expected something more truthful.
So, here’s the deal. Eric Bishop (Steve Evets, whose name you may or may not wish to try backwards — I’ve just noticed) is a middle-aged Mancunian postman on the brink of nervous collapse. His second wife has left him to bring up his two criminally inclined teenage step-sons. He is still in love with his first wife, Lily, but does not think she’ll ever forgive him for walking out on her and their baby daughter years ago (I know I wouldn’t!). He drives the wrong way around roundabouts. His cupboards are stuffed with undelivered post. His postie mates try to cheer him up but fail. So he takes refuge in dope, and one evening, in his bedroom, while he is talking to the poster of his all-time hero, Eric Cantona, who should step out but the great footballer-philosopher himself. Cantona is a sublime presence as well as excellent comic value and, although patently a figment of Eric’s imagination, there is no attempt at trickery in his scenes. He simply appears in Eric’s bedroom, or beside him in the pub, offering tips like some kind of lifestyle coach. ‘He who follows a trawler might be in with the chance of a sardine,’ he might say. OK, maybe not. But he does say things like: ‘He who is afraid to throw the dice will never throw a six.’ A bit silly, really, as what if you were to throw a one? But Eric laps it up and is, yes, put back on the road to happiness.
It is all a bit erratic, tonally, as if the film can’t decide if it wants to be serious or not and, as a result, it never feels cohesively whole. In fact, the sub-plot to do with the teenage boys and their involvement with a local gangster actually feels as if a different film altogether has been tacked on. And even though the Eric and Lily relationship should be at the heart of it all, I just didn’t get it. How come they appear to have rarely met or talked over the years when they live round the corner from each other and have obviously raised their daughter jointly? How does that work? A small detail, you might say, and you might well be right, but it certainly ate away at me. As for the finale, and its heart-warming message about the value of family and community, oh, behave.
Look, this is no disaster. You will love John Henshaw as Eric’s fellow postie Meatballs. Steve Evets — what is his middle name, I wonder; Bob? — is convincing. Cantona is Cantona, and who would want anything else? There are some fun male friendship scenes. But this is a deliberate ‘feelgood’ movie and, while I didn’t feel bad, I just didn’t feel much of anything. It’s simply OK-ish.