Saturday, 13 June 2009

Looking for Eric: sketch of a maverick genius

Looking for Eric is an unlikely but enjoyable collaboration between footballer-turned-actor Eric Cantona and director Ken Loach.

The story centres around Eric Bishop, a postman whose life has spun out of control. Failed marriages, teenage stepsons that he can't control and other complex family relationships drive Eric to the point of breakdown. Desperate for comfort and escapism, he turns to smoking his son's marujuana, and soon starts receiving visions of his hero, Eric Cantona.

The film oscillates between some light humour and a very gritty depiction of life in Manchester's social underclass. John Henshaw is brilliant as Meatballs, the leader of Eric Bishop's friendship group of postal workers. There's some real wit and brilliantly observed banter, especially between the this crowd of friends. (Two scenes stand out in particular: the session reading Paul McKenna's self help manual in Eric Bishop's lounge, and the scene of Manchester United related banter in a pub, where some knowledge of the Malcolm Glazer takeover helps).

I'll now add a spoiler alert - if you're going to see the film, stop reading now. After saying that the person with most charisma and charm he admires is Cantona, Eric Bishop's visions of Cantona lead him to act as Cantona apparently would in each situation he faces. As Eric Bishop learns to see his circumstances through the lens of the character of Eric Cantona, his choices change. The vision of Cantona encourages Eric Bishop to be spontaneous, to be passionate, to take risks, to trust in team-mates and never to give up when knocked down. There's a couple of sideways references to Cantona's mysterious pseudo-philosophy. The final scenes, in particular, represent Cantona (acting through Eric Bishop) as a big-hearted maverick rather than a crazed individual (as he was often portrayed in the media, especially after the infamous kung-fu kick).

The audience is forced to ask the question: what would Eric Cantona have been like in any other sphere of life, other than a professional footballer? Looking for Eric is a biography, yes - but a biography with a difference. It is a celebration of a unique kind of genius and, in that respect, a celebration of the diversity of personalities and gifts there are amongst members of humanity.

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