Kitchen-sink woes guide Looking for Eric to its natural core and engaging message, that finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places is acceptable. Eric Cantona, the former striker for Leeds United and Manchester United, is now a philosophical being. He hung up his footballing boots and careered into an odd niche, offering advice to those who never knew they needed it. That is the premise for this Ken Loach feature, but it is also a lengthy tale in the real world too. Cantona’s public persona is rather similar to the one found within Looking for Eric, and audiences are all the better for it.
Loach would rely on the desperate workmanship of a broken lead ten years later in Sorry We Missed You, but the effect and difference between that and Looking for Eric is astonishing. Humanising celebrities and workers alike, Loach adapts the big, eponymous name as a mortal, rather than the legendary persona he has since become. While it may lose its way towards the end, the lacklustre final third does little to distract from the heavy lifting and keen worldbuilding that takes place before it. Raw and emotional much of Looking for Eric may be, the unconventional tone of the piece and the otherworldly stylistic choices linger over the social commentary, which is lacking here.
Although these characters throw words around like “fit as a butcher’s dog” and all the colloquial terms that are so synonymous with Loach’s approach to the working class, Looking for Eric still has that natural, stumbling ability. Actors who feel rather uncertain of their lines do not present amateurish, coy moments but a stunning display of realism. Sometimes a force beyond the physical perception is needed to shove someone in the right direction. That is where Eric Cantona steps in, and his role here is just as mysterious and stunningly odd as the man himself. It works wonders for Loach and Steve Evets, whose role as Eric Bishop provides tremendous scenes of a man on the cusp of a breakdown.
His beloved football team saves him. Many must feel that way as they march toward the stadium once a weekend. It is that perception of the working class that Loach entertains in Looking for Eric, and it is one that still holds water today. Honest-meaning friends and colleagues rally around Eric with the wrong ideas. It takes an Eric to help an Eric. Loach toys with the visions of a man on the brink, and the result is entertaining and heartfelt. It loses some of the punchiness with vague notions of mental health and the clarity that needs to come from helping it, but that is a loss dealt with well by the cast. Eric and Eric play well with one another, and it is the defiance of these messages that rings through so well. Finding some way of coping, whether that be talking to a mind-tricking incarnation of a Premier League-winning footballer or taking control of your life, either way, Looking for Eric is open to ideas, and in need of some improvements.