film review: LOOKING FOR ERIC

Directed by Ken Loach
Produced by Rebecca O’Brien
Written by Paul Laverty
Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd
Released by IFC Films
UK/France/Italy/Belgium/Spain.
116 min. Not Rated
With Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, John Henshaw, Stefan Gumbs & Lucy-Jo Hudson

[Article originally appeared: http://film-forward.com/lookingfor.html]

In “Play It Again, Sam”, Woody Allen played a nebbishy film critic who congers up an imaginary alter ego when in need of romance advice. In this case, that imaginary friend was Humphrey Bogart, the icon of macho cool. I can’t for the life of me imagine Ken Loach, the director of such films as “Raining Stones”, “Riff Raff”, and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”, being influenced by this 1972 Allen comedy, but his new film, “Looking for Eric”, suggests that distinct possibility. In it, Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a single father and postal worker, has a similarly active fantasy life. Besides the two layabout stepsons from his second failed marriage living with him in his London flat, Eric also has a grown daughter from his first marriage, a single mother who needs lots of help with babysitting.

Having to pick up and drop off his grandchild at the home of his first ex-wife, Eric is finally forced to contend with the woman he walked out on decades earlier and for whom he still carries a torch. Lily (Stephanie Bishop) brings up many anxieties for Eric, ones that go all the way back to their short-lived marriage. So Eric creates his own macho alter ego, only in this case instead of Humphrey Bogart, Eric dreams up the French soccer star Eric Cantona. Gamely playing himself, Cantona—one of the film’s executive producers—does what most American audiences might feel is impossible—to be speak in an even thicker accent than the working-class blokes that comprise the rest of the cast and most of Loach’s dramas of the past 40 years. Looking for Eric is being billed as a comedy, and for the most part it’s upbeat and heartwarming. However, the subplot involving Eric’s older stepson, Ryan (Gerard Kearns), who gets in over his head with a local thug, delivers a very dark tone to the film until the final scenes, which bring to mind the lighter films of Mike Leigh.

The film will likely have a very large built-in audience since many soccer fans will likely rush to see it. The funniest scenes involve the camaraderie among the postal workers, all of whom, like Eric, are soccer fanatics. They make up the entirety of Eric’s social life. But it is though his pot clouded conversations with Cantona that Eric figures out how to get his life and relationships in order. Feeling that he and his sons are up against the wall with nowhere to turn for help, Eric takes Cantona’s advice, a decision that finally gets Eric out of his self-imposed isolation. Finally, the movie’s title makes a whole lot more sense.

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