Thursday, May 13, 2010

Looking for Loach -- as LOOKING FOR ERIC opens at, and via, IFC

How depressing it is to watch a group of good actors give their all to a project so false, second-hand and poorly conceived as LOOKING FOR ERIC, the new film by an old favorite of ours who, after The Wind That Shakes the Barley and now this dreadful film, seems to be losing his grip. Ken Loach  (shown below) and his oft-times screenwriter Paul Laverty  have given us some wonderful working-class/socialist/progressive movies over the past 40 years, but even into these has sometimes crept a too-easy resolution (Bread and Roses), together with a sentimentalization of the very class of people the filmmaker wants to cheer on. These caveats are no longer creeping; here, they're barreling down on us, full-speed-ahead.

In his latest, Loach's working class heroes could use a dash -- if not a cartload -- of the same hypocrisy and denial that affect humanity in general. But don't waste your time searching for this.  Or any reality, either. In Looking for Eric, our "hero" is a British postman named Eric (played very well by Steve Evets, below) with a wretched family life who is so depressed that instead of delivering the mail, he's storing it in cupboards back home.  Speaking of working-class solidarity: What a great help this must be to those poor stiffs not receiving their bills, having their utilities shut off and being charged egregious late fees by their banks and credit card companies.  This is OK, though, because Eric is just a good ol' boy, Brit style, who happens to have left the girl he got pregnant a couple of decades back but still pines for: the sweet, smart Stephanie Bishop (at right, with Evets, two photos down).

Our Eric is also in "sports" love with the great footballer Eric Cantona.  One day, after a noodle-brained but  funny "therapy" session his friends have organized, the unhappy mailman brings (or imagines) Mr. Cantona to life as his mentor/helper/guardian angel.  This kind of thing has been done often enough previously -- ten times better, too -- yet off we go to fantasyland with our newfound Eric, who surfaces quite often for awhile and then is absent for a long period.  Is he gone, we rather hope?  Nope-- here he is again, just in time to help our hero in the rousing climax.


Fantasy/whimsy is evidently not a mixture that comes very naturally to Loach. So he mixes in heavy doses of various genres.  Melodrama slides into farce, family comedy clunks against the fantastic, romance turns into -- I kid you not --  gangland terror and police brutality.  The plot often goes to pieces, while the direction is sloppy.  Our hero has a nasty head wound, then he doesn't, then he does.  And every time Cantona appears, expect a heavy-handed therapy session.  (The sports hero himself seems a pretty good actor, so I hope we'll see him in another, better film soon.)

Along the way there are some choice moments: the lead-up to an auto accident done purely and economically with editing and sound effects, Cantona (above, left) producing a trumpet from his pants and playing the Marseillaise above the British town, and the film's final line -- which is adorable and funny.  The movie overall, however, is flabbergastingly stupid.

This is the kind of feel-good idiocy that even Disney and Hallmark might have trouble asking us to swallow, in which there is nothing that can't put right, if only we would... uh, hell, I don't know.  But maybe, if we just believe hard enough, Tinker Bell won't die.

Looking for Eric opens Friday, May 14, in NYC at the IFC Center and will simultaneously be available On-Demand via the usual IFC route. Click here for directions.)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just saw Looking For Eric in New York, and I think you may be too hasty to condemn it. It does have funny parts, scary parts, sad parts, etc. However they aren't as scattered as you've made them sound here. Loach does a nice job of balancing comedy and drama, which serves nicely to break up the pace, instead of plodding along on one level. Maybe the factor from the fantasy portions that was missing for you was your own suspension of disbelief, because for me the Cantona bits were great. He was funny, wise, and charming. As for the rest of the cast, they did a superb job. As far as I'm concerned, this is another great success for Loach. I'm going to see it again, and maybe you should think about doing the same.

Adam said...

On Sat. I went to go see Loach's "Eric," and I was captivated by Steve Evets' performance as his character Eric Bishop. I truly believe that it will be nominated for several awards this year and will win at least a Golden Globe, if not Academy Award in one or two categories.

Daniela said...

I disagree. "Looking for Eric" is absolutely wonderful to watch, and without doing so, one would completely dismiss the perfect blend of humor and drama Loach portrays. Not only is it appropriately opportune with the World Cup, but as a foreign film it truly takes you overseas because of the rich, cultural British ties portrayed. Not to mention how Eric Cantona's fantastical role in the movie brings alive a beautiful world of soccer where cultural loyalty is heartfelt. I really suggest watching the movie again from a different perspective. I think you may have missed out on the true message of the film: simple reality in the art form of loyalty, culture, and familial struggle.

James van Maanen, said...

Hmmm.... This is unusual: having three comments, all disagreeing with my take on a film. I expected that most reviews would be terrible, but no-- they weren't. They were pretty good overall. But, Anonymous, I really couldn't imagine myself sitting through the movie again. I would be climbing the walls. I found it insulting to working guys (and gals) everywhere. When you have to rely on fantasy to make things happen, you're in big trouble. This is one thing in a children's film (like Peter Pan) but quite another in a movie for adults. But let's face it: everyone is looking for whatever help they can get these days, and if it comes via an imaginary friend, I guess that'll have to do.

James van Maanen, said...

And Adam -- yes Evets IS very good, which, for me, made the movie all that much more intolerable: his being so good in such a piece of trash. As to its winning awards, I would doubt this, but we'll find out in another ten months or so.

James van Maanen, said...

And Daniela, as I mentioned above to Anonymous, I couldn't sit through this film again if you paid me to do it. But as to its simple reality in terms of familial struggle, all I saw it doing was making the entire process so simple and easy that it lost all credibility for me. This kind of thing happens only in fantasy movies. I think I read on The Auteurs Daily (now called MUBI Daily) that the film was badly panned in Britain, so perhaps I am accessing my British heritage (Dad was born near Liverpool), rather than my American side, as most American critics appear to have liked it better.

GHJ - said...

Wow, what a reaction to an incredibly mediocre movie. I mildly liked this film, Jim. I don't think it's as bad as you say, but it certainly has it's unforgivable moments (like the cliche stepsons/gangster plot scenario). Anyways, to each his own I guess. Also, I saw CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION today and for me, that's the worst film i've seen in ages. Utterly dreadful. Avoid it at all costs. I'll be able to have that chat in early June. Looking forward to it.

James van Maanen, said...

Hey, Glenn-- You're right: I over-reacted (though the film still stinks, I think). As a long-time Loach-lover, I was sooooo disappointed that I guess my disappointment over-took my critical faculties.

Re THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION: you must have missed my earlier review. I loved the movie, but I can understand why others don't. But "the worst film you've seen in ages. Avoid it at all costs." I think this one must be YOUR particular "Looking for Eric."

And, yes, good, let's have that talk soon. Maybe late next week...

GHJ - said...

RE: DESTINATION, maybe it is my albatross, but still, the Omar character is one of the weakest, most idiotic lead characters I've ever witnessed, and the script! When Laura Linney asks Hopkins, "Adam, do you like life?" I was done! It's endlessly monotonous and completely inane, especially the ending. Didn't buy any of it as drama. I was actually laughing during some of the most "dramatic" scenes because they were so indulgent. But we're all allowed one overreaction!