After a failed attempt to do himself in, driving the wrong way on a busy roundabout, Eric is at the end of his rope. And then another Eric - the Manchester United soccer legend of the 1990s, Frenchman Eric Cantona - appears in Eric's life. Cantona, whose grace, agility, and ability to score goals made him a star in the soccer world, is Eric's hero. A giant poster of the man still hangs on his bedroom wall.
And then, suddenly, while Eric is making his rounds one day, Cantona - affably played by the real sports icon - is there by his side. And then back in Eric's house, sharing spliffs and wine, and offering counsel (annoyingly, often in French) to try to get the despondent Eric to grab hold of life again.
Cantona's appearance is illusory - like Jimmy Stewart's rabbit in Harvey or Stewart's angel, Clarence, in It's a Wonderful Life. There's a nice scene two-thirds through Looking for Eric when the two Erics are running by a river, and the famous footballer is putting his downtrodden fan through a regimen of exercises. Then Eric Bishop is spotted by his coworker pals. They worry what he's doing out there all alone.
Looking for Eric is one of Loach's more overtly sentimental pieces. Eric had been madly in love almost 30 years earlier, but his marriage to the beautiful Lily didn't work: He got scared and ran out, leaving her alone to raise their daughter. But now, with Cantona's help, Eric finally summons the nerve to ask Lily (Stephanie Bishop) for forgiveness, for a second chance.
It's not as easy as all that, of course. And Eric's eldest stepson (Gerard Kearns) is in the kind of trouble that can get him, and quite possibly Eric, too, sent to prison.
Evets, rangy and hollow-eyed until Cantona comes along, grounds his performance in the real world, even as he participates in the fanciful exchanges with his footballer friend. And Cantona, big and bearded, is a genial Gallic guru. It's hard not to be swayed by his optimism, his sagacity, his generosity.
And the optimism and generosity of Loach's film.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.