Soccer as a great escape
by Jason Blair
LOOKING FOR ERIC: Directed by Ken Loach. Written by Paul Haverty. Cinematography, Barry Ackroyd. Music, George Fenton. Starring Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop and Gerard Kearns. IFC Films, 2009. Unrated. 116 minutes.
|Steve Evets and Eric Cantona in Looking for Eric
Just in time for the 2010 World Cup, Looking for Eric volleys into theaters with a soccer-ball heart. The film, directed by Englishman Ken Loach, is both in keeping with the celebrated director’s output and a pleasant departure from it. As with earlier films like Bread and Roses, Looking for Eric prominently features nonprofessional actors, a risky approach Loach compensates for by casting according to life experience. The result is a unique brand of realism which feels unscripted but often isn’t. But while Loach’s earlier films, like The Wind that Shakes the Barley, tended to focus on catastrophe, Looking for Eric is a sweeter, softer look at falling down, focused on depression, the importance of maintaining close friends and the necessity of having a good football club to root for.
The Eric doing the looking in Looking for Eric is Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a mildly disgruntled postman who, when the film opens, appears on the verge of giving life to the term “going postal.” His teenage boys disregard him completely, other than to swear at him in the foulest manner, and he seems to be stashing undelivered mail in the hollows of his house. Concerned, his friends and fellow football lovers organize an intervention, during which each man chooses a charismatic hero to emulate. At this point, Looking for Eric is a slow-starter: Tonally, it’s pitched toward Happy Go Lucky but lacks Lucky’s solidifying performances. During the intervention, Eric selects as his idol the great footballer Eric Castano, adding dimension to the film’s title as well the mind of the suffering mailman. (For the uninitiated, Castano’s football prowess almost single-handedly revived Manchester United in the 1990s.) The saving grace of Looking for Eric is that Castano, who has been referred to as “talismanic” in his abilities and “nitro-glycerin” in his temperment, starts appearing to Eric the postman in hallucinations.
The two Erics make a wonderful pair. Castano becomes a kind of shrink to Eric, imbuing him with the confidence necessary to manage his teenagers and, if he’s lucky, win back the wife he walked out on years ago. The Erics smoke, drink, dance and even jog together. If it feels a little like watching Ghost to see Eric talking to someone who isn’t there, Castano adds a levity that director Loach’s films sometimes lack. The result is a winning combination. Looking for Eric is a must for any football fan — many of Castano’s best goals are revisited in the film — and will reward anyone patient enough to appreciate its subtle movements, from its flashes of humor to the occasional threat of violence. In addition to Castano, who has appeared in a couple of films and is a natural presence onscreen, Evets feels very at home in the role of Eric, even if Evets’ résumé to this point was playing the bass for the band The Fall.
Looking for Eric opens Friday, June 18, at the Bijou.