Ken Loach's bittersweet comedy drama Looking for Eric witnesses the veteran British director undertaking one of his first forays into magic realism. The film blends enchanting and refreshing fantasy-themed whimsicality with an irresistible core of warmth and sweetness that Loach unveils in the hard-scrabble working-class life that occupies center stage. With Loach and his cast working at the top of their game, the movie represents an unmitigated triumph on all levels.
Steve Evets stars as Eric Bishop, a Manchester postman whose life took a disastrous turn in the early '80s when he let fear and intimidation drive him out of a loving relationship with his first wife, Lily (Stephanie Bishop). In a fit of panic, Eric abandoned the poor woman and their baby, Sam. And though he maintained healthy contact with his daughter over the years, he remained out of touch with Lily for decades.
As the film opens in the present day, a confused and emotionally tormented Eric pilots his car on a suicide mission -- down the wrong side of the highway, vehicles careening toward him from the opposite direction. He just barely scrapes through without any casualties, but the reasons for his self-destructive tendencies soon become readily apparent. Sam (played as an adult by Lucy-Jo Hudson) now has an infant child of her own, and Eric and Lily have begun sharing nanny duties for their granddaughter. As a result of increased contact with Lily, Eric has discovered that he's still deeply in love with his ex-wife, but their prospects are seemingly hopeless and desperate -- so desperate that Lily has passed the point of hatred and feels apathetically numb toward the man who wronged her. And, to top it all off, Eric's two adolescent sons from successive relationships, Ryan (Gerard Kearns) and Jess (Stefan Gumbs), are rapidly spiraling into irresponsible and (in Ryan's case) delinquent behavior.
Not long after Eric's near fatality, a miraculous event occurs: his hero, French-born Manchester United football star Eric Cantona, materializes before him and begins to counsel him on the most effective way to turn his life around, first in terms of his interactions with Lily, then in regard to his parentage of Ryan and Jess.
One of the sneakiest aspects of the movie is a gradual shift in the tone of the audience's feelings toward Eric Bishop. At the outset, he indeed seems hopeless -- a scrawny and scruffy, F-bomb-dropping, chain-smoking ne'er-do-well. But as the details of his history with Lily emerge (repeatedly depicted in wondrous soft-focus flashbacks to a lively dance where the young couple met and fell in love), the film unveils its heart and soul. Those flashbacks give form and dimension to the interactions between Lily and Eric in the present day by drawing attention to the subtle undercurrents of emotional attraction between the two adults -- a magnetism weakened but not by any means destroyed by Eric's abandonment. We find ourselves cheering for Eric Bishop as the spirit of Cantona nudges him forward, encouraging him to take risks by opening up his heart to the radiant and vulnerable Lily, and confessing and explaining the reasons for his past misdeeds.
Yet Loach also maintains an acute awareness of the dangers of oversentimentality. He carefully sidesteps this pitfall, both by reining in the progress of the Eric-Lily relationship (it happens at such a moderate pace and is so beautifully modulated that everything about it retains credibility) and by girding the whole movie in the same grittily profane veneer that has become a hallmark of the director's work. The film also benefits from inspired doses of edgy humor. The instances are almost too numerous to mention, though the highlight is undoubtedly a sequence in the movie's final third that involves the attempt of Eric Bishop and his thuggish "mates" to gain creative slapstick revenge against some hoodlums who have wronged his son and endangered his family. At other times, Loach draws on witty offbeat dialogue to generate laughs -- as when Eric's mates go through group therapy together, and one of the men confesses that he hopes this isn't some sort of "weird occult thing" where he'll have to take his shorts off.
In his overall filmography, Loach has been more or less consistent with his gritty, unvarnished look at the lives of working-class Britons, so when one stops to think about it, this attempt to fork off in a new direction with a seriocomic fantasy represents something of a stylistic gamble. It's a testament to the strength and cohesiveness of the material at hand and the adroitness of the talents involved that we never once feel consciously aware of the risks being taken.
releases for Looking for Eric on AllMovie
Looking for Eric (2009)
Looking for Eric
|September 14, 2010
Looking For Eric
Icon Home Entertainment
|October 12, 2009