Director Ken Loach specializes in social-realist cinema and grim stories of hardscrabble, working-class lives (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Ladybird Ladybird). But his latest film, Looking for Eric, is capable of lifting even the stoniest heart.
Loach's signature political commentary and socio-economic critique are still in plain view. They're just mixed in with a dash of fantasy and some bits of surprisingly funny (for Loach, anyway) business that render the film squarely into the comedy genre.
The set-up doesn't sound all that amusing and is purely Loachian: After being banged up in a car crash, a middle-aged postman named Eric (Steve Evets) arrives at his shambles of a house to discover that his two no-good stepsons and his shady second wife are nowhere to be found. His daughter asks him to help her look after her new baby and encourages him to reconcile with his estranged first wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop), the love of his life.
In a moment of desperation, the soccer-loving Eric appeals to a poster of his idol, Manchester United superstar Eric Cantona, for advice. And magically, the real-life Cantona suddenly materializes, ready to give Eric the help he needs.
Although Cantona (who charismatically plays himself) is purely a figment of Eric's pot-fueled imagination, the effect he has on his fan is seriously real. Despite the fantasy elements, Looking for Eric is at its best when Loach plays to his strengths, whether depicting the convivial camaraderie between Eric and his fellow postmen or Eric's gradual reconciliation with Lily, who had plenty of reason never to speak to him again.
The likable Evets makes the sad-sack hero easy to root for, even when the rest of the world seems to have given up on him. Despite the storybook elements of the film's premise, Loach finds a way for a surprisingly grim reality to intrude periodically, reminding you this is not exactly Disney territory. But even non-soccer fans who might mistake Manchester United for an airline will be seduced by the irresistible pull of this unabashedly feel-good charmer: Looking for Eric eloquently argues that no matter how dire our circumstance, the future is ours for the writing. Sometimes, you just need a little inspiration.
Cast: Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs.
Director: Ken Loach.
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty.
Producer: Rebecca O'Brien.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 115 minutes. Vulgar language, brief nudity, adult themes. Playing in Miami-Dade: Cosford.