Looking for Eric
Directed by Ken Loach
Ho-hum, another typical Ken Loach trudge down the dead ends of the British working class. Except, wait—is suicidally depressed Mancunian postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) toking up and receiving visitations from talismanic former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona—playing himself—on hand to offer heavily accented life coaching? In a word, oui.
The sports idol as positive role model is the name of the game here, and Loach and regular screenwriter Paul Laverty play it straight, with the common man slavering over copious highlight-reel flashbacks, and eagerly soaking up King Eric's bromides ("Without your teammates, you are nothing") as he repairs relations with his wayward stepsons and long-abandoned first wife (their just-kids courtship is glimpsed in another set of flashbacks, to touchingly textured early Thatcher-era dance contests and christenings.). The premise, presumptively absurd, is quickly domesticated: Laverty doesn't write anything to match Cantona's own arguably Confucian wisdom, as glimpsed when the end credits replay, in its entirety, his 1995 press conference following a ban for kung-fu-kicking a heckler: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much." (Nor does the footballer's delivery come with nearly the same noblesse-oblige spin—that inclusive, knowing smugness of the athlete on top of his game, gleefully aware that his every gesture is a rare gift.) The drama and whimsy feel forced, especially a climactic showdown between a local kingpin and Eric's pudgy fellow postal workers and United fans.
But there's a sly socialism underlying that silly, contrived climax, and the positive change enacted by the two conflated collectives—a union of workers and United supporters (and a personal support system to boot)—begins to suggest sports fandom, among adults as opposed to kids or lads, as an underfilmed subject rich with social implications, class for starters (which in turn suggests that Looking for Eric may be typical Loach after all).
Opens May 14