Thursday, 11 June 2009

Looking for Eric

Deus Ex Manchester

A few years back filmmaker Ken Loach was seen with Eric Cantona in an executive box at Old Trafford football ground. Tongue-in-cheek stories soon went round that the left-leaning director was making a film with the gnomic, kung-fu kicking maestro. The joke came true and the resulting film, Looking for Eric is good value.
Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a middle-aged postman in Manchester whose has hit rock bottom; he walked out on the love of his life over 20 years ago and now, consumed by regret, low self-esteem, and with two teenage step-sons running rings round him at home, he crashes his post van. When concerned colleagues try cheering him up with bad jokes and Paul McKenna books, all seems lost. Until that is, in a haze of smoke and magic realism, his number one idol, Eric Cantona appears before him as a personal self-help guru — in a plot device I am rather proudly calling Deus Ex Manchester.

Cantona, who has been acting in French films for several years now, puts in an enjoyable turn as a kind of parody of his UK image, sending up his famous "sardines" speech with random gallic philosophy. He ponders the mystery of woman, trombone playing and considers what his greatest ever moment was during his footy career (and it wasn’t a goal, not surprisingly).

Steve Evets, as Little Eric is extremely moving and funny at times, almost consumed by life but finding his courage and learning to trust him friends. John Henshaw, as Meatballs also steals his scenes, though you wonder if this is a cunning cross promotion for the actor who appears as a postman and also advertises for them. This could well be Ken Loach’s most commercial release as it has a kind of Full Monty feel-good trajectory about it; accessible as a bitter-sweet human story and also attractive to football fans; though warning: contains United scoring goals for those tribally opposed.

Personally, I could have done with less of a gangster heavy plot (Liverpool and Manchester are not just populated by gangsters, footballers and scallywags, no?) but this Eric is a real crowd pleaser. Probably the first film to appeal to fans of Ken Loach and the Red Devils.

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