DIR: Ken Loach • WRI: Paul Laverty • PRO: Rebecca O’Brien • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • DES: Fergus Clegg • CAST: Steve Evets, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, John Henshaw, Eric Cantona
The history of football on film is somewhat sketchy. For every hit – such as The Damned United, or the sheer insanity of Escape To Victory (a truly unique celluloid occasion in which Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pelé and John Huston somehow ended up working together) – there are dozens of terrible attempts to capture the beautiful game on film. Happily, Looking for Eric is a terrific film, the enjoyment of which is only slightly increased by a knowledge of soccer. Like all great sports movies, however, the key is that it actually isn’t about sport at all. In fact, it’s not even about Eric Cantona, although the great man’s charming and amusing appearances do provide the impetus for the story. Looking For Eric is, above all things, a Ken Loach film. In other words, it’s about humanity.
The Eric of the title is not Cantona, but Eric Bishop, the put-upon postal worker hero of the film. Depressed and dealing with the emotional baggage of two failed marriages, Eric is also trying to raise two teenage stepsons and offer support to his own daughter as she finishes college. Eric is dealing with very adult problems while still lost in the mindset of his youth; he agonises over his decision to walk out on his young wife years earlier, and the walls of his bedroom are adorned with Man United memorabilia and posters, the centre of which is a massive Cantona poster. It’s while staring at this poster over a spliff one night that Eric begins receiving imaginary life coaching from King Eric himself.
Initially, Looking For Eric plays like a typical British romcom, albeit an especially good one with a fine ear for realistic dialogue. Steve Evets makes for a likeable, believable lead, and he’s surrounded by a superbly detailed suburbia, from the clutter that fills his house to the pub he frequents with his friends. Loach’s political angle is somewhat sidelined, his socialist views only really given voice in a scene where fans discuss the commercialisation of football. The director seems as aware as anyone else of the irony that the worlds biggest, most corporate football club are taking a central role in his first film on the subject, but he never lets these opinions interfere with his story and characters. Eric’s hero worship seems to exist solely as a part of his state of arrested development; he hasn’t been to a match in years, and there is little mention made of the contemporary United line-up. Even his jersey is a mid-1990s vintage. Yet it’s by re-evaluating his past that he begins to reinvent his present, driven by the philosophies of his hero. It’s witty, engaging stuff, even if you have no idea who Cantona is.
The film becomes even more fascinating, however, when Loach suddenly takes the film down a more serious route. Without giving anything away, the 72-year old auteur’s filmmaking remains incredibly sprightly; one scene is as shocking and heart-stopping as anything a younger British filmmaker might serve up, and the final third of the film lets him tackle the issues facing today’s youth with surprising credibility and nuance. This emotional twist, while exhilarating, means that the comic set-piece that forms the climax of the film feels a little underwhelming. Nonetheless, Looking for Eric remains a fine piece of comedy drama, one that once again confirms Loach as one of Britain’s most interesting and versatile independent filmmakers.
(See biog here)
Looking For Eric is released on 12th June 2009
Looking For Eric – Official Website