Veteran British director Ken Loach fields one of his most accessible and lightly-toned offerings to date with this comedy about a football fanatic trying to sort out his life. He does so by enlisting the fantasy help of real soccer superstar Eric Cantona (now retired from the game) as well as his workmates. Warm-hearted and humorous with a crowd-pleasing ending, Looking for Eric should conjure strong word of mouth and positive critical response following the film’s Cannes Film Festival bow.
Normally left of field filmmaker Ken Loach prefers to explore the gritty side of life in contemporary Britain. With his most recent film he doesn’t exactly get glamorous or bourgeois, but he and writer Paul Laverty have acquired a lightness of tone that suits them.
Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) is a Manchester postman teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He never got over walking out on his first wife, his second spouse has left him with her own teenage sons (now running wild) and his daughter is using him for child caring duties while she tries to put herself through college.
To sustain him during this difficult period of panic attacks and depression he enlists the help of his friends, including Meatballs (John Henshaw), who's a great believer in self-help books. Meatballs inveigles Eric and the others to try a visualization exercise that involves them looking at themselves through the eyes of someone they really admire.
While his friends opt for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Eric chooses Eric Cantona, “the greatest footballer who ever lived.” Eric's visualization works. He concentrates on a poster of Cantona, played by the former Manchester United star himself, and when he turns around his hero is there in person. Not only that, but Catona starts appearing regularly and offering his usual cryptic advice, such as “He who is afraid to throw the dice will never throw a six” and, in a more self-deprecating turn: “I am not a man. I am Cantona.”
The French-born, former footballer is funny and charming and more than prepared to be teased by Paul Laverty's sinewy screenplay. Besides Cantona, both Evets and Henshaw give strong performances. As one of the few women of significance in this male dominated world, Stephanie Bishop gives a deeply felt portrayal as the postman’s wife who reluctantly lets him back in to her life.
There’s a crowd-pleasing finale that involves Eric, Meatballs and a whole platoon of Manchester United supporters whose collective action ensures that the villains of the piece receive their comeuppance.
The only problem for audiences in the States may be the thick, regional English accents, which, as with some of the other Loach films, may require subtitling.
Cast: Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, John Henshaw, Stephanie Bishop and Gerard Kearns
Director: Ken Loach
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Producer: Rebecca O’Brien
Genre: Comedy; English- and French-languages, partially subtitled
Running time: 116 min.
Release date: May 14 NY, May 21 ltd.