This concludes my coverage of this year's Portland International Film Festival. Thanks to the organizers for inviting me along. The check out what is left for the programming, check out the PIFF 2010 website.
Looking for Eric (Great Britain; dir. Ken Loach)
Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a postman who cares about football and little else. He has let his two sons slip away, even though they live under the same roof. He still pines for his first wife. Even his love of football is out of date. He hasn't been to a Manchester United game in ten years, and his hero, Eric Cantona, retired at the turn of the century. Eric is so lost, at the start of the picture he gets on the highway going in the wrong direction--possibly on purpose.
Once Eric is out of the hospital, he starts to get roused from his sleepwalking routine. It begins with a silly self-help actualization exercise put on by his supervisor, a gent named Meatballs (John Henshaw). In it, Eric is prompted to visualize a person of confidence he most wishes he was. After imagining himself as Cantona, the real Cantona appears to him in a vision and starts giving him life advice. His eyes newly opened, Eric starts to deal with things, attacking problems the way his hero would attack the ball on the field. What Would Cantona Do?
Looking for Eric is directed by Ken Loach from a script by Paul Laverty, who also wrote Loach's 1998 film My Name is Joe. Loach is known for his realistic films, a modern update of the 1960s Kitchen Sink era of British cinema. His approach captures the look and tenor of average life. Looking for Eric's detours into fantasy, then, are kind of surprising. Smartly, the script never tries to explain the nature of Eric's visions, or even question them as such. No clichéd "I'm a figment of your imagination" speeches from Cantona, who plays himself and also produced. Eric just goes with it, and so, presumably, shall we.
Except that, for me, the Cantona stuff sat somewhat uneasily next to the rest of the narrative. The appearance of the footballer doesn't feel natural, it's more of a gimmick, and it ends up making some of the positive changes Eric makes, such as his exercise regimen, ring false. Looking for Eric is much better the more natural it is. The best scenes involve Eric sitting with his postal worker mates and taking the piss out of one another. The self-help exercise and an argument about football loyalty down at the pub had the audience I was in howling with laughter. The film's final act concerns itself with one of Eric's sons having gotten in trouble with a local hood, and how Eric decides to stand up and get him out of it. The solution he comes up with is both surprising and amusing.
Looking for Eric is a harmless piece of entertainment. It works for what it is and nothing more. As far as Loach's filmography, it may end up being a minor blip; then again, it was quite the crowd pleaser at the afternoon screening I attended, so its heart and its humor could end up making it more popular than his more serious, demanding films. Only time will tell.
One side note, for those of us who don't know much at all about Eric Cantona, I appreciate that Ken Loach cuts in a healthy amount of clips showing us the man at work. It doesn't take much to see what an interesting personality he was on the field. Though, Shawn Levy at the Oregonian suggested I take a look at this clip for the less heroic side of the footballer. An out-of-control Cantona vs. a Spectator:
Looking for Eric plays on 2/26 and 2/27.
Current Soundtrack: Elvis Costello, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane
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All text (c) 2010 Jamie S. Rich