Sometimes — a lot of times — character is everything. Take Looking for Eric (or leave it, I guess; it’s still not exactly must-see) for example: a stone-faced Brit comedy about Eric, an unassertive single dad (Evets) who’s taught lessons in self-esteem by a come-to-life poster of his idol, soccer great Eric Cantona. Yeah. If this were made in Hollywood, it’d be called Bodyslam!, starring Brendan Fraser and the Rock, or maybe just Sidekicks starring Jonathan Brandis, Chuck Norris, and Joe Piscopo, because, on the surface at least, we already made this one back in 1992, and it was fucking majestic.
What separates Eric from, say, Kazaam, is the depth of not-famous Eric’s character development. This dude has some real problems. We first see him driving his mail truck the wrong way around a roundabout, causing a serious auto accident. After a brief treatment scene, he’s back to work, and the shots of Eric sullenly sorting mail and the infinitely more depressing view of his home life — he’s basically a mercilessly ridiculed manservant for his two horrible sons — threaten to give us a glimpse of the sort of English entertainment Graham Parker described to me in a recent interview `see “‘We’re being brainwashed,’” May 5`: “Three guys in the lunch room of a factory … and you’d come to some kind of vague understanding of their dull, dull-ass lives.”
Fortunately, this isn’t the case, mainly because Eric, though it’s got a little bit of violence and a lot of potty talk, follows the familiar formula set down by countless family comedies — Eric uses Cantona’s advice (procured during some pretty impressive sticky-icky smoke sessions) to reclaim the throne in his domestic castle, make amends with his estranged ex-wife, and in general just stop being such a fanny.
Eric’s problems, though, are realistically painful in a way you’d never see in something like Liar, Liar. He’s not trying to win the big promotion, he’s trying to free his oldest son from the influence of a psychotic thug. He’s doing the standard win-back-the-old-wife routine, but Lily (Bishop) is a woman he left 30 years before to raise their daughter on her own. He has to find forgiveness for an act he still can’t explain the motivation for, and we know from the get-go that nothing can ever return to the way it was. “I didn’t leave you,” Eric says after describing the panic attack that induced his departure,” I just didn’t know how to get back.”
But also, Eric ends with a family photo snap and, much like my wedding night, climaxes with a bunch of Guinness-gutted superfans in rubber masks squirting paint-filled SuperSoakers, so don’t go in expecting Withnail and I. Just ’cause they call the shitter the “loo” don’t mean it’s Shakespeare.