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Bend It Like Cantona

MOVIE REVIEW
Looking for Eric (2009)

028248
Festival de Cannes

With "Looking for Eric," Ken Loach, purveyor of the socialist struggles of the working class, unexpectedly delivers an uplifting, exceptionally funny film. Yes, there are the expected Loachisms running throughout – the broken marriages and the errant kids – but Mr. Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty manage to suffuse this tale of middle-aged postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) dealing with a mid-life crisis with some heart.

Eric appears on the verge of cracking up. He crashes his car and steals his son's drugs to forget about the heartache of two failed marriages, but finds solace in the companionship of his workmates (a terrific supporting cast headed up by the brilliant John Henshaw as Meatballs). He’s also a massive Manchester United fan; his bedroom a shrine to one of its biggest stars, Eric Cantona, a player so revered amongst United fan that they refer to him as "King Eric" and "Le God." Following a drug-fueled conversation with posters and pictures of his enigmatic idol, Mr. Cantona "appears" and proceeds to counsel Eric through his troubles by forcing him to face up to the past.

Their ensuing exchanges are touching yet tinged with humor, with Mr. Cantona at his philosophical best as he recounts some of the greatest moments of his career to encourage Eric to take risks and be assertive in a bid to change his life for the better. Eric’s new found assertion is tested when he is forced to confront his ex-wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop) for the first time in years. They meet. They flirt. They reminisce about old times and seem to achieve a certain degree of closure.

Yet Mr. Loach seems intent on instilling a bit of grit into the story, as he tonally wrenches the film into quasi-gangster territory. A subplot surrounding Eric’s son Ryan (an impressive Gerard Kearns) and his involvement with a local gangster seems a bit uneven, perhaps even a little clunky as it effectively acts as a device to draw out the new Eric. In lesser hands, the film may have unraveled; yet Messrs. Loach and Laverty manage to find a happy medium by marginalizing the gangsters and instead focusing on the effects that Ryan’s tribulations have on Eric and his family. A satisfying payoff involving Eric’s friends in "Operation Cantona" lightens the tone as Eric finally garners the admiration and respect of his sons.

Relationships, as in any Loach picture, are pivotal in "Looking for Eric," and it is the chemistry between Messrs. Evets and Cantona that is central to the success of the film. While the two Erics actually share very little screen time, the moments they do share are highly emotive, absorbing and hilarious, with a stand out scene involving Mr. Cantona teaching Eric to say "non" particularly well observed. Much of the credit has to lie with Mr. Evets, as Mr. Cantona plays, well, Eric Cantona, while Mr. Evets delivers a compelling performance as the fraught Bishop. In addition, long-time Loach collaborator Mr. Laverty should be applauded for his sharp screenplay which expertly juggles comedy and drama.

In fact, "Looking for Eric" so comfortably straddles the comedy-drama genres that even the tonal jolt halfway through can be overlooked, as Messrs. Loach, Laverty, Evets et al. combine to such effect that what transpires is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and heart warming piece of work.

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