Like Eric (Steve Evets), the depressive Manchester postman in his new film, Ken Loach, the doyen of British neo-realism, deserves a break. Since the ’60s, he’s been the go-to guy for hardcore, kitchen-sink British grit and grime (Mike Leigh seems almost lyrical by comparison), his working-class laments ranging from the landmark Kes (1969) to the deceptively titled Sweet Sixteen (2002), with the occasional foray into such period tragedies as The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). Not a rom-com or buddy movie in the bunch until this brooding, uneven, but ultimately satisfying venture into levity, Loach style.
|Looking For Eric | Directed by Ken Loach | Written by Paul Laverty | with Steve Evets, Stephanie Bishop, Eric Cantona, Gerard Kearns, Stephan Gumbs, Lucy-Jo Hudson, John Henshaw, Justin Moorhouse, Steve Marsh, and Des Sharples | IFC Films | 117 minutes|
Not that the lightheartedness is immediately apparent. From the beginning, Eric displays symptoms of utter Loachian despondency. He’s just been rescued from driving his car around a roundabout for the thousandth or so time, having fallen into a catatonic distraction. He was already near his wits’ end dealing with the shenanigans of his two teenage stepsons: the eldest, feral Ryan (Gerard Kearns), has been flirting with the local psycho crimelord Zac (Steve Marsh), and the more easy-going Jess (Stephan Gumbs) treats Eric like a housekeeper who occasionally nags him about watching porn on line. (Loach, to his credit, makes no big deal out of the different races of the two kids — Ryan is white and Jess is black — or the whereabouts of their mother.) But these everyday worries Eric can handle — it’s the long-repressed guilt and remorse that are pushing him over the edge.
The sins of the past come to a head when his daughter, Sam (Lucy-Jo Hudson), is about to enter college. To do so she needs Eric to help baby-sit her daughter. That means he must arrange a schedule with his ex-wife, Lily (Stephanie Bishop). But Eric hasn’t confronted Lily since he blew her off after the birth of baby Sam three decades previously. That’s a whole lifetime of what-might-have-been to reflect on while driving around in circles.
To the rescue, à la Play It Again, Sam, comes another Eric, Manchester United superstar Eric Cantona (played by Cantona himself), whose life-size poster graces Eric’s bedroom wall. A more charming, thoughtful, and down-to-earth sports figure than, say, Lawrence Taylor or Mark McGwire, the imaginary Cantona shares a joint or two with his namesake and offers cryptic, French-accented advice like “She ’ates you. Right. Now we’re getting somewhere” and “You’ve got to trust your mates.” I guess it makes more sense if you smoke as much pot as these two do.
Cantona’s onto something with the latter suggestion, however, since Eric’s post-office pals are a bunch of salt-of-the-earth, eccentric, unschooled, but largely decent and resourceful blokes with names like Meatballs (John Henshaw) and Spleen (Justin Moorhouse). Their attempts to pull Eric out of his funk by telling jokes don’t help much. But when the movie threatens to descend into the violence and despair of other Loach movies, they can be depended on to pitch in.
And things do get rough. The stepsons are borderline creeps, Zac is a nasty piece of work, a scene with a killer Rottweiler and a digicam gets pretty unpleasant, and so does a terrifying and humiliating police raid. In almost any other Ken Loach film, such odds would be overwhelming. But with Eric, it’s nothing a little team spirit can’t handle.