Looking For Eric (15)


Oooh, aaah, um...

For Ken Loach to make a footie-based film isn't that surprising. In Kes he memorably indulged Brian Glover as the bullying PE teacher who insisted on playing centre-forward. And 10 years ago in My Name is Joe Peter Mullen's recovering alcoholic was coach to a local lads' team. So Loach has form here. But his pairing up with Manchester United's 1990s hero Eric Cantona to make a whimsical comedy about self-belief and togetherness comes out of the blue, like a speculative 30-yarder that flies into the top corner. I only wish it had made me leap up from my seat with a triumphant yahoo.

Looking for Eric is notable for a quite jarring mixture of styles, beginning in characteristic Loach fashion as an underdog drama. A middle-aged Mancunian postman, Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), is having a breakdown. He crashes his car after driving the wrong way around a roundabout. His home life in a tatty terrace is spilling into chaos now that his two stepsons have hit their sulky teens. When his post-office colleagues come over to see him they discover heaps of undelivered mail in his living room. (This delinquency, by the way, so enraged me that I nearly abandoned all sympathy for him right then – I shudder at stories of letter-hoarding posties). The reason Eric's depressed, we learn, relates to a surprise encounter with Lily (Stephanie Bishop), the wife he walked out on in a panic 30 years ago. He has met her again through their daughter, now a mature student with a kid of her own, and Eric realises he still loves her.

If there's something implausible about this set-up – Have they really not met each other in 30 years? Would a woman as attractive as Lily not have a partner, perhaps even another family? What happens next yanks the film into a different register altogether. Eric is mopily smoking a joint in his bedroom when he turns to find himself conversing with – sacre bleu! – his very own idol, Eric Cantona, now bearded and lightly greying but still recognisably the saturnine midfield maestro who delighted the hordes at Old Trafford. He still comes on like the philosopher king, too, in keeping with that famous gnomic utterance about seagulls and trawlers and sardines. (The speech is replayed in the closing credits). He offers his beleaguered namesake tips on how to get his life back together, in much the same way as the ghost of Humphrey Bogart hung at the shoulder of Woody Allen, dispensing romantic pointers in Play It Again, Sam.

There are differences between them: for one thing, Bogart was being played by an actor. Here it actually is Eric Cantona ("lui-même" he's named in the cast-list) spouting proverbs that the screenwriter Paul Laverty imagines would suit the one-time footballer if he were indeed a life guru. Cantona's a likeable presence, more so than he was in the recent French Film, and he doesn't take himself too seriously.

"I am not a man. I am Cantona," he says, a line that would sound terrible without the twinkle in his eye. He even plays a few squeaky notes on the trumpet. The vital lesson the footballer passes on to Eric concerns the value of teamwork. When his admirer asks him about his favourite moment of skill on the pitch, Cantona replies that it wasn't any of his goals – though his best are happily replayed in montage – but an exquisite side-of-the-boot flick that let in team-mate Dennis Irwin to score. The supreme individualist was apparently a selfless team player all along! You can believe it if you want.

Cantona is slightly forgotten in the final third when Laverty switches from mawkishness to menace. A spot of mischief darkens into a blotch of urban violence after one of Eric's layabout stepsons gets involved with a local villain; the incriminating ownership of a handgun drives Eric to a desperate meeting with this psycho-path, who casually humiliates him.

Remembering Cantona's words about dependence on your mates – rather than, say, emulating that notorious flying kung-fu kick – Eric hatches a plan to turn the tables on his nemesis. It is perhaps the least realistic scheme to outwit a villain ever seen on film, and executed in the most galumphing fashion. The tone jars horribly with what has gone before. Laverty has a proven track record as a grim social realist; he is less assured as a comic fantasist; and he is absolutely hopeless when he tries to combine the two.

One of Laverty's principal characters is Eric's post-office colleague Meatballs, nicely played by John Henshaw as a lummox who believes he can attain wisdom from self-help books. First he tries a bit of group therapy to drag Eric out of the doldrums. Later, when he hears that a "psychopath" is on the loose, he brings along to the pub a paperback entitled Psychopath. I suppose this is comedy of a sort, but like much else here it sounds like it's written by someone earnestly, doggedly conducting an investigation into what "comedy" might be. Laverty seems much more at home during another pub debate between fans of the breakaway FC Manchester and fans of the corporate-owned Premier League club; you can hear Loach's old-school socialist decency coming through loud and clear. The sentimental celebration of that decency is partly what hobbles Looking for Eric. The film ends in a welter of thank-you scenes so sincerely "feel-good" I found myself groaning. I wanted to offer my own thank-you – and good night.

Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?