(director: Ken Loach; screenwriter: Paul Laverty; cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd; editor: Jonathan Morris; music: George Fenton; cast: Steve Evets (Eric Bishop), Eric Cantona (Himself), Stephanie Bishop (Lily), Gerard Kearns (Ryan), John Henshaw (Meatballs), Stefan Gumbs (Jess), Lucy-Jo Hudson (Sam), Justin Moorhouse (Spleen), Cole Williams (Daisy); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rebecca O’Brien; IFC Films; 2009-UK)
Softly goes to the heart of its working-class survivors as just so much mush.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An engaging but off-target misfire fantasy romantic/comical social realism film from veteran Brit filmmaker Ken Loach (“Kes”/”Raining Stones”/”Carla’s Song”), that softly goes to the heart of its working-class survivors as just so much mush. It’s written by regular Loach writer Paul Laverty, who omits the usual leftist political agenda but leaves intact the authentic working-class setting and characterizations. Its problem is that it strains too much to be funny and meaningful, and as it turns out fails at both. The continuous self-help advice offered by the real French former soccer star of Manchester United in the 1990s, Eric Cantona, makes sense but because of it the pic becomes even more ingratiating and irritating than another Brit crowd-pleaser I couldn’t stand, The Full Monty. Though well-intentioned as a popular feel-good lightweight comedy message flick, its magical dramatic moments are awkward, corny, misplaced and not believable.

Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a loser nice guy middle-aged Manchester postman, who just was released from the hospital in a suicide attempt after trying to purposely crash his car into a city roundabout he kept circling. Returning to his messy private house, where he dwells with his two loafer teenage stepsons, Ryan (Gerard Kearns) and black stepson Jess (Stefan Gumbs), Eric grows even more despondent when he soon learns that Ryan has been hanging out with local gangsters. There’s also his oldest daughter Sam (Lucy-Jo Hudson), studying for her university degree, who just had a baby and thereby dad helps split-time caring for the child with ex-wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop). We learn Eric’s life is slowly going downhill since he foolishly abandoned his wife Lily, the ideal woman he fell in love with at a community dance in 1979 and married, as he can’t find the words to ask her to return even though he loves her and twenty years have gone by since their separation.

Eric’s loyal workplace friends try but fail to cheer him up at work. So their leader Meatballs (John Henshaw) reads from a self-help book and the boys meet in Eric’s house to try out the suggested meditation exercise to get Eric back in the swing of things. Each man is to pretend he’s looking in front of an imaginary mirror and must choose an inspirational person to guide him in how to live with confidence. The men choose Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Fidel Castro, Gandhi, Mandela, while Eric chooses legendary soccer star Eric Cantona.

That night while smoking weed the disgruntled mailman conjures up the ghost-like imaginary image of soccer star Eric Cantona, who will then offer him sound advice throughout the film. Things go downhill as the film abandons its realism for a wild sweet revenge finale of the two Erics banding together with all his postal worker friends, passionate fans of team United, to teach the intimidating thugs a lesson not to mess with Eric’s boys. The gang goes masked en masse to the crime boss’ gated pugnacious rottweiler guarded estate and give him the funny business. This, of course, later gives the postman a chance to reconnect with his appreciative wife and sons, as the pic clumsily ends with as phony a happy ending as any Hollywood film has ever dared. The message here is that friends are so important in one’s happiness and that acting with confidence matters greatly.