REVIEW: Ken Loach Has Oppressive Fun with Soccer Pic Looking for Eric

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Few filmmakers are as achingly earnest in their political views, and as deeply in touch with the soul of the proletariat, as Ken Loach is. If only we could just admire his movies without having to actually watch them.

But even Loach is capable of breaking out of his mold now and then, and he probably needs to. It's not an easy lot, being a devoted and prolific filmmaker who keeps making socially committed pictures that not many people see. (The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a grim and sometimes deeply affecting drama set during the Irish Civil War, won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2006, but you wouldn't exactly call it a crowdpleaser.) And so, with Looking for Eric, Loach tries his hand at comedy -- or at least a comedy of sorts. In this wry kitchen-sink fantasy, a down-on-his luck Manchester postal worker named Eric (Steve Evets) comes close to cracking up: His daughter has asked him to look after her baby daughter while she finishes up her degree.

But that means he'll be forced to have contact with the baby's fellow caretaker, his ex-wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop), whom he abandoned 30 years ago when their daughter was just an infant herself. Eric has never reckoned with his true feelings for Lily, nor has he ever really parsed for himself why he left her so abruptly and so cruelly. In the interim, he's been busy raising two boys (played by Gerard Kearns and Stephan Gumbs), the sons of the woman he married after leaving Lily. She's long gone, but the boys are now teenagers, and even though Eric loves them, they're making his life a living hell.

Eric is so disoriented that he nearly kills himself, or possibly someone else, going the wrong way on a roundabout, and his post-office pals -- led by the roly-poly, and aptly named, Meatballs, played by John Henshaw -- decide it's time for an intervention. But he also benefits from intervention of a more divine sort: Just as he's gazing at a poster of his hero, former Manchester United football star Eric Cantona, imploring him for advice, Cantona himself appears in his room, like the Virgin Mary in Bernadette's grotto. In his thick French accent Cantona -- who plays himself -- dispenses priceless words of advice, counseling Eric on the necessity of pulling his life together and urging him to be confident and assertive, instead of just the perennial hangdog pushover he's been for most of his life.

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Comments

  • Donald says:

    Yellow card on the Loach bashing! Sure, it's easy to roll your eyes at Loach's unabashed politics - but from his first feature, Kes, through the much-underrated Los Angeles story about janitors organizing, Bread and Roses, Loach has always showed a genuine concern and fascination with the way real people live.
    Like any filmmaker he has his missteps (I myself thought Wind That Shakes the Barley wasn't all that great - and Looking for Eric looks pretty slight). But at his best, Loach is still one of the foremost directors in the world, drawing excellent performances from his actors and displaying a strong visual style that is more workmanlike than flashy.
    Two fairly recent standouts in his filmography: Sweet Sixteen and the lovely A Fond Kiss. For an example of Loach at his best, just watch the quiet, beautiful scene in the latter film, in which the young man Casim walks away from his sister's teacher's apartment and we see him in the space of a few minutes falling in love with her. Indelible, perfect.
    Also, glad to see you continue to write Stephanie. I really loved your writing at Salon and am glad to know I can still read you here!

  • FilmLover23 says:

    I actually just saw "Looking For Eric" at the IFC Center this past weekend and loved it! I disagree, I feel like Loach accurately portrays a side of British culture that hardly gets any attention. It is refreshing to see such a unique and new idea with a perfect balance of comedy and drama. After seeing this I can't wait to watch the next Ken Loach film.

  • Daniela says:

    I disagree with Stephanie. Ken Loach's films are absolutely wonderful to watch, and without doing so, one would completely dismiss the perfect blend of humor and drama that he so quietly embeds in his movies. I also just recently saw "Looking for Eric" and it was terrific. I can't wait for Loach's next movie. Not only is it appropriately opportune with the World Cup, but as a foreign film it truly takes you overseas because of the rich, cultural British ties portrayed. However, it is the fantastical and fanatical world of soccer, aloneness, and familial struggles that'll bring you back to reality (to America) as to how connected we really are microscopically. It is this balance of a simple town with grave situations that makes this film so refreshing: a true trademark of Loach's films. Not to mention how Eric Cantona's presence and role in the movie, brings alive a beautiful world of soccer where cultural loyalty is heartfelt. One of my favorite lines in the movie by Eric Cantona himself is, "Nobody forgets rock-and-roll." Once you watch Loach's films, you cannot forget them either.

  • j.alexis.camarda says:

    I have to disagree with you Stephanie, "Looking for Eric" is a "comedy" that did "sing." Have you ever been stuck in a roundabout in your life? To me, "Looking for Eric" deserves an A+. The film conveys Eric's transformation from lost to found in a beautiful way. It serves to relay the larger message that we all may be lost in our lives at some point or another, but with a little imagination and an idol, we too can survive and live in a "fairytale"(Elizabeth Weitzman ,New York Daily News)

  • MisterMovieMan says:

    I'm from the States, and I didn't know who Cantona was until I saw the film (or Loach for that matter) but after seeing it I've come to appreciate them both. I thought it was a really engaging film. A lot of the drama is pulled from the universal source of regret, and much of the inspiration comes from how Eric chooses to face his own shortcomings head-on. Its those things that made this movie work on a comic level, because it's easy to relate to the characters. The acting was incredible, the whole cast deserves to hear it from much more influential sources than me. Anybody know if its showing State-side again soon?

  • Mal Content says:

    Bravo Stephanie on calling out one of cinema's most overrated directors. People in the UK treat Loach the way some people treat Shakespeare comedies - as something they should appreciate, irrespective of whether the are genuinely entertained or moved. Ken's plangent dramas are always full of plucky working class and dastardly capitalists. A bit of nuance wouldn't go amiss amongst such crude steroetypes. And Paul Laverty is mystifing as a writer - his structures are shambolic, his characters unconvincing. And by the way, unless he's a master of irony he doesn't manage to acknowledge, let alone get past the fact, that the real Eric worked long and happily for soccer's biggest sporting capitalist machine, Manchester United.
    Eric is not as bad as his painfully inept characterisation of the religious divide in West Coast Scotland in Ae Fond Kiss...but it's significant that very few of the people who Ken makes movies about, bother going to see Ken Loach movies. It's very much a chance for the middle class to pat themselves on the back for being so compassionate and liberal

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