Looking for Eric: Ken Loach in Lighter (Less Impactful) Mood

Cannes Film Fest 2009 (In Competition)–With “Looking for Eric,” British Ken Loach, mostly known for his serious social-realistic dramas, has made one of his more  accessible film, a mildly entertaining comedy that takes full advantage of the presence of its star, former French football star Eric Cantona, who in fact initiated the project.

Grade: ** (out of *****)

If memory serves, this is Loach’s ninth feature to be shown in the Cannes Film Fest, the last of which, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” won the coveted top prize, the Palme d’Or, in 2006.  IFC will release the picture in late fall after it travels to Toronto and other festivals.

Again collaborating with writer Paul Laverty, Loach juxtaposes two men bearing the same name: Eric Cantona (labeled King Eric at Manchester United, the world’s biggest football club) and another Eric (Steve Evets), a depressed postal worker full of anxieties.  Among Eric’s bad habits is driving the wrong way, which one day leads to a crash.

Though there are no casualties, the accident is just another aggrevation in Eric’s already miserable life.  His second wife had left him and his two stepsons, Ryan (Gerard Kearns) and Jess (Stefan Gumbs) are not exactly obedient or appreciative of his parenting style.  Eric’s job provides no joy or consolation either, despite efforts by his peers, led by Meatballs (John Henshaw), to cheer him up, using various techniques and ingenious strategies to squeeze a smile out of him.

Morally down and socially withdrawn from the world (and himself), Eric spends most of his time in his room, which is decorated with all kinds of sports memorabilia, including a poster of Cantona.  Lo and behold: what begins as a one-sided confession between Eric and Cantona as confidante, changes when the person behind the poster actually materializes and shows up.

Cantona arrives fully equipped with smart and not-so-smart proverbs to help Eric find some happiness in his mundane life.  He even tries to reconcile the sad sack with his first love, Lily (Stephanie Bishop), whom he had abandoned years back but had not forgotten.

Sporadically, the film resorts to the kind of grim touches that are usually found in Loach’s better films, but here the helmer has hard time balancing the comedic with the more serious and depressing elements (a recurrent problem in Loach’s films).

That said, the acting of the two charismatic leads is decent, and Cantona proves to be good sports while poking fun and playing off his public image and not entirely positive reputation. When Eric tells the star, “People sometimes forget that you’re just a normal man,” the latter quips, “I am not a man. I am Cantona!”

In the overall scheme of Loach’s career, “Looking for Eric” is a modest, minor (rather shallow) work, not likely to be remembered for too long.

Credits

Production companies: Cantos Bros. Prods., Sixteen Films, Why Not Prods., Wild Bunch Director: Ken Loach Screenwriter: Paul Laverty Producer: Rebecca O’Brien Executive producers: Eric Cantona, Pascal Caucheteux, Vincent Maraval Director of photography: Barry Ackroyd Production designer: Fergus Clegg Music: George Fenton Costume designer: Sarah Ryan Editor: Jonathan Morris

Running Time: 116 minutes