British director Ken Loach specializes in tales of drab, working-class lives lived in quiet desperation far from the spotlight, with an earthy and unvarnished style. But that's not exactly the case in this engaging dramedy, an uneven charmer that finds beams of magical realist sunshine piercing Loach's usual canopy of gloom.
That's not to say that it's all lilacs and lollipops for our hero Eric (Steve Evets), a lonely, scruffy, middle-aged Manchester postman, saddled with two rowdy teen boys and a lifetime of defeats and regrets. Many years earlier, he abandoned his pregnant wife, a mistake he chews on every day, made even more bitter since his second wife ditched him, leaving him stuck with his shiftless stepsons. One of those boys has gotten jammed up with an unhinged minor crime boss, and it's more of a pickle than poor Eric can manage. His life in shambles, one night he smokes a joint and consults a bedroom poster of his idol, Eric Cantona, a dashing center forward whose speed and scoring panache elevated Manchester United to championship excellence in the 1990s.
Through the magic of cinema clichés, the footballer appears, as Sam Spade did for Woody Allen in Play it Again, Sam, and doles out confidence-building pep talks with the same poise he used on the pitch.
A reinvigorated Eric starts tackling his problems head on, and he patches things up with his lost-love Lily (Stephanie Bishop). To deal with a thug who's jeopardizing things with Lily, Eric calls in backup from his rancorous crew of fellow United supporters, who manage to pull themselves away from their pints long enough to lend a hand. The finale is memorably chaotic.
Looking for Eric is a tad bit sunnier than Loach's naturally grim norm; he seems to have borrowed a bittersweet page from fellow realist Mike Leigh (Happy Go Lucky), and that's not a bad thing. Though there are sprinkles of fantasy and Capra-like whimsy, happy endings still must be earned in Loach's world. And no man's a failure who has a stable of drunken soccer hooligans for pals.
Opens Friday, May 21, at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.