Over a nearly 40-year filmmaking career, Britain’s Ken Loach has established himself as a master of serious drama, usually rippling with social commentary—in other words, about as far from high-concept comedy as you could get.
But that’s more or less the vibe of the satisfyingly quirky Looking for Eric, scripted by Loach’s frequent recent collaborator Paul Laverty. In Manchester, postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets)—still haunted by his youthful decision to abandon his wife and infant daughter 30 years earlier, and burdened with two layabout, ne’er-do-well teen stepsons from his second marriage—is borderline suicidal. He needs advice, and with a wee assist from his stepson’s marijuana stash, he gets it from an unlikely source: former Manchester United soccer star Eric Cantona (playing himself), who begins appearing to Bishop in times of need.
Yes, that’s basically a spin on Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam coming from Ken Loach—and both the gimmick and the gentle humor generally work. Evets does a fine job as a guy genuinely trying to make peace with his tattered past, including reconciling with his first ex-wife, Lily (Stephanie Bishop). Cantona proves endearingly self-deprecating as he plays Bishop’s conscience, spouting bon mots in French. And there are lively supporting performances from the lads playing Bishop’s supportive co-workers.
That’s not to say Loach and Laverty don’t find time to sneak in some scenes from the class struggle. There’s a barroom argument over making soccer-team allegiance a political statement, as well as a subplot in which Bishop’s oldest stepson (Gerard Kearns) gets mixed up with a local gangster (Steve Marsh). The resulting tonal shift makes it difficult at times to settle into Looking for Eric as a light-hearted character study, but Loach still manages to craft something with several genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. This old dog has learned a charming new trick.
LOOKING FOR ERIC
Steve Evets, Eric Cantona