Looking For Eric (15)

2.00

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser