DVD Review: Looking for Eric
Looking for Eric
Directed by Ken Loach,
Icon Home Entertainment, 2009, £6
The concept of the imaginary acquaintance is an often chronicled one in the arts – from the apparition of Marley’s Ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to James Stewart’s seven foot rabbit chum Harvey; from Edward Norton’s alter ego in Fight Club to Nathaniel Fisher in Six Feet Under.
A movie that puts a new spin on the theme with Eric Cantona playing the part of the spectre might be a tough sell for some though. One Liverpool supporting pal pronounced himself completely unwilling to watch the film, in spite of his liking for the work of Director Ken Loach; and in a similar way, many Spurs fans refuse to have anything to do with Fever Pitch (apart from blogger Greg Theoharis) The taint of rivalry is simply too strong to enjoy a work objectively.
Loach is a Bath City supporter of course and any accusations of hagiography can be dismissed when regarding the central place Liverpudlians have enjoyed in his films – from Ian Hart’s role as a republican volunteer in Land and Freedom to the pugnacious individual played by Mark Womack in his more recent Route Irish. Indeed, this latter character’s performance is so edgily combative, one half expects him to launch into a rant in defence of Luis Suárez.
Loach’s long term screenwriting partner Paul Laverty, a Celtic fan, is in a rich vein of form, not only scripting the director’s excellent The Angel’s Share, one of 2012’s most enjoyable films, but also the astoundingly brilliant Even the Rain, a tale of water shortages and film-making in the Bolivian context. With caveats, the earlier Looking for Eric mainly fulfils this hot streak.
Those doubts surround the film’s central conceit and the role of Cantona himself. While showing an admirable willingness to laugh at himself – the seagulls/trawler quote and other examples of cod philosophy are amusingly lampooned – his role could be interchangeable with any number of ‘heroes’. That said, given his stalled acting career after an early performance in Elizabeth, he was presumably more readily available than the other icons admired by characters in the movie – Mandela, Gandhi and Sinatra no less. At least Loach didn’t build the movie around Vinnie Jones.
The plot concerns a down on his luck postie, also going by the name of Eric. After two failed marriages, he is saddled with looking after two feckless stepsons, one of whom is out of his depth in local gangsterism, an unfortunate tendency to attract ill luck and occasional psychological blind spots – the consequences of which involve sporadic dabbling in illegal substances and probably account for ‘Cantona’’s arrival in his life.
Gradually, the mercurial former Nîmes and Leeds United striker talks the less famous Eric out of his fug and a highly amusing near final scene that underlines the importance of mateship forms a satisfying conclusion. I won’t give anything away but suffice to say that the Manchester United megastore must have been quids in.
One of the most enjoyable scenes features a gathering of United fans in a pub for a Champions League encounter and an argument between an FC United of Manchester supporter and a crowd still dedicated to the Glazers’ plaything. That these groups have more in common is underlined when a mock celebration is staged in order to tempt the FCUM fan back into the boozer.
These moments of broad humour and repartee are always high points of Loach’s work and despite a usual undercurrent of grimness, it is definitely one of his more light hearted films – together with The Angel’s Share, Looking for Eric perhaps denotes a mellowing with age. Put your partisanship aside and rent it – you’ll enjoy it.