Ken Loach. UK. 2009.

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Looking for Eric is a blend of comedy, fantasy, philosophy, and social realism that breaks the record for the most “F” words ever used in a motion picture. If it wasn't supposed to be a feel-good comedy that asks you to suspend logic, I would also suggest a “P” word - preposterous. Directed by the team of Ken Loach and Paul Laverty that has brought us such serious dramas as Sweet Sixteen, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and My Name is Joe, Looking for Eric is funny in parts, serious in others, full of both joy and sadness, a true chiaroscuro of life, yet trying to combine gritty social realism with an absurd comic fantasy does not always work.  

In the film's opening, Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a 50'ish postal worker living in a working class section of Manchester England with his two rebellious stepsons Ryan (Gerard Kearns) and Jess (Stepfan Gumbs). Close to a nervous breakdown, Eric manages to survive a car crash but comes home to a house in a total mess and has difficulty in coping with his stepsons who do not listen to him. His friends at work led by Meatballs (John Henshaw) try to cheer him up by telling him jokes but they barely produce a smile. The ever resourceful Meatballs brings all his friends and co-workers together to lead them in process in which they are asked to see themselves through the eyes of someone who really loves them. Done with a minimum of condescension, Loach handles the activity with respect and makes the proceedings plausible. 

When asked to pick the person they most want to take after, one chooses Nelson Mandela, another Gandhi. Eric chooses Eric Cantona, a French hero of the Manchester United soccer team of 1990. Continuing with the theme of self awareness, Cantona, playing himself, turns up in Eric's vision (presumably as a holographic image) to guide him toward developing a stronger self image. Eric asks Cantona to recall the moments on the football field that he most cherished and, with the postman's exuberant narration, the moments are replayed on screen to almost magical effect. Asked to describe the highlight of his career, instead of talking about a goal he scored, Cantona humbly mentions the time he passed off to a teammate who then scored. 

Meanwhile, as Cantona supplies the postman with enough proverbs to rival the Book of Solomon, his daughter Sam (Lucy-Jo Hudson) asks him to babysit for her small child while she finishes her education. This leads Eric to confront having to reunite with his ex-wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop) who he walked out on 25 years ago when she was pregnant. Feeling trapped, he turns to Cantona who reminds him that “We always have more choices than we think,” After having been talked by his soccer hero through the guilt of abandoning his wife, Eric and Lily meet after many years and remember their most romantic moments when he wore blue suede shoes and they danced together.

Unfortunately, Looking for Eric goes off track in the latter part of the film with a convoluted plot involving his stepson Ryan, local hoods, a gun planted in his house, police brutality, and all kinds of high energy mayhem that sends the film into sensory overload. While Loach and Laverty's message about how life works better when we are open and include the people that are closest to us in our problems is a good one, the film eventually becomes so absurd and heavy-handed that it threatens to destroy the charm it had built up earlier. Looking for Eric is an entertaining and heartwarming film that has moments of sheer delight but, as a whole, the ball never quite reaches the net.


Howard Schumann

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