The term “crowd-pleaser” is not often attached to the work of Ken Loach, the Palme d’Or-winning British director of films of social realism, but his latest In Competition entry, “Looking for Eric,” is exactly that.
At the press screening, there was laughter throughout, frequent clapping and sustained applause at the end. Loach regular Paul Laverty’s script is filled with great gags, and the director does his typically polished job of bringing out the best in his actors, including former soccer player Eric Cantona, a Frenchman who was unheralded at home but called King Eric at Manchester United, the world’s biggest football club.
With Man U having just won the English Premier League title again and heading to the Champions League final next week in Rome, the film’s football connection could not be more advantageous. If only the club’s millions of supporters around the world go to see it — and they all will want to — the movie will be a hit.
But “Eric” should connect with moviegoers who enjoy clever comic writing with a touch of fantasy, plus fans of any sport that has legendary heroes. It looks set to be Loach’s biggest mainstream hit.
The footballer materializes in the home of a sad-sack postal worker also named Eric (played with great energy and flair by Steve Evets), whose latest panic attack leads to him repeatedly driving the wrong way around a roundabout until the inevitable crash.
He escapes unhurt, and no one else is harmed, but Eric is chastened by his latest attempt to flee the unhappy realities of his life.
His mates at work, led by portly Meatballs (John Henshaw), do their best to cheer him up, and there’s a hilarious sequence in which they go one at a time to try to make him laugh, but it doesn’t help.
Retreating to his room — which is full of Man U memorabilia, including a life-sized poster of Cantona, in whom he confides his worries — Eric is startled to discover the genuine article has shown up to listen.
More than that, the iconic star, known for quoting obscure sayings, has brought a bunch of his favorite aphorisms and proverbs to help Eric find happiness.
There’s a moment in the picture when a shift from high comedy to grim reality is a bit abrupt, and some might find the themes incompatible, but it wouldn’t be a Loach film without that. With Lafferty’s help, he manages to achieve a balance. In the end, with Cantona’s wisdom and the help of his pals from the post office, Eric finds the courage and wit to win the day in a hugely entertaining final sequence.
Very funny and a bit sentimental, it’s naturalistic comedy of the highest order, with Evets and Henshaw standouts among a terrific cast. Cantona, too, shows great comic timing and is imposing and self-effacing, playing off his reputation for being a proud and temperamental man.
Not only Man U supporters will enjoy the splendid clips showing some of his classic passes and goals, and his dialogue is a constant delight. “Sometimes we forget you’re just a man,” Eric tells him. Comes the reply: “I am not a man. I am Cantona!”(partialdiff)