' Cinema Romantico: Looking For Eric

Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking For Eric

Here is a movie that is not exactly what you expect. The premise of this 2009 film as stated by Netflix: "With his work life and love life in shambles, Eric seeks advice from his hero, the famously philosophical Manchester United star Eric Cantona (playing himself)." Now what do you expect from reading such a synopsis? A comedy, probably, or, at the very least, a dramedy. Especially if I told you that the Eric Cantona the Eric of the film is talking to is imaginary. But none of this even mentions the soccer hooligans or the blue suede shoes or the supersoaker loaded with red paint. But even that makes it sound like a comedy or, at the very least, a dramedy and, really, honestly, it's not. The director is Ken Loach, Britain's gritty master of realism (and director of the miraculous, criminally underseen "A Fond Kiss") and he seems to possess little interest in the fantastical aspects of his story, keeping it firmly at ground level.


As the film opens Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a British postman, is in a car wreck, the reasons for which will eventually be revealed. His friends and co-workers try to cheer him up in the face of his recovery but he isn't really having it. He has a daughter whose mother, Lily (Stephanie Bishop), Eric walked out on when he was just 21 and he has two teenage sons, Ryan (Gerard Kearns) and Jess (Stefan Gumbs), at home from his failed marriage, both of whom are problematic, though one, Ryan, is more problematic than the other. Pushed to the brink of his sanity, Eric lifts a little weed from Ryan's secret stash, stows away in his home, smokes it, and voila! Eric Cantona appears! And this is where the movie shows it true colors.

It gets the obligatory "Is that really you?" and "Am I dreaming this?" inquiries outta the way immediately and then settles into the fact that whether real or imagined Eric becomes a mentor to Eric. Loach presents this subplot entirely matter-of-fact. But because it's Loach he also has more on his mind than the premise of one Eric revealing all the mistakes and regrets of his past to the other Eric.

Into "Looking For Eric" comes a gun. Now typically this is an ominous sign. As Tony Gilroy, the best screenwriter currently going in Hollywood, once, kinda derisively, opined: "The most makeable screenplay idea is to write a hero part for a guy between thirty and fifty....with a gun." But Loach has different ideas how to incorporate a gun into his screenplay. As in, Eric finds Ryan is stashing a gun when he goes to hijack a little more weed. A father's failing aids in discovering a son's failing. I love it.

It seems Ryan has become caught up with a couple thuggish drug dealers who have more or less ordered Ryan to stash this gun for them until they need it to do whatever it is they need to do with it. The decisions made by Eric upon this discovery are fairly flawed, quite questionable, though entirely heartfelt and maybe even a little noble. He just wants to protect this son he has spent a majority of his life neglecting. Yet, by attempting to protect Ryan he, in fact, potentially exposes the rest of his family whose love he is trying to re-earn to undeserved harm. One by-product of this decision is extraordinarily difficult to watch. How could he have done it? But you know precisely why he did it. "Looking For Eric" is not black and white but Pacific Northwest overcast gray....with a lot of laughs.

And a mesmerizing lead performance. This is the first time I have ever seen Steve Evets act (apparently he was the "Ragged Messenger" in the recent "Robin Hood" reboot I will never ever watch) and while it is technically a 2009 performance and it is among the finest I have encountered in 2010. The accent is a tough brogue and for the first 10, 15 minutes you will only understand bits and pieces but stick with it and it gets clearer - truly, it does - and on display is a layered, sensitive turn of a man who cannot help but screw up, sometimes with the right intentions, sometimes with the wrong ones, who sincerely reaches a point where he recognizes what he has done wrong and seems to pledge his forgiveness while knowing full well he does not necessarily deserve to be forgiven.

The film's most powerful moment is a flashback to Eric and Stephanie Meeting Cute at a dance and cutting a rug to a little bit of Elvis and then Eric Cantona asks our Eric to re-live it and, thus, to dance with him and, naturally, our Eric balks at first but then gives in and they dance and this scene has all the makings of something comical, or ludicrous - two men, one imaginary, gettin' down tonight.  But instead the camera pushes in on our Eric's face, ignoring the other Eric entirely, and in our Eric's face, in his smile, that beaming smile, as the film then flashes back and forth between then and now, you can see how this moment was The Moment of his life and how it starts him on a path, however unmarked, toward redemption.

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