A detailed prior knowledge of soccer is not necessary to enjoy Looking for Eric, since it's not really a film about soccer, but you do need to know something about who the "Eric" of the title is since his stature and importance are central to the film.
Movie Review: Looking for Eric
By Edwin Davies
June 8, 2010
During the 1990s, there was no one in international soccer quite like Eric Cantona. A Frenchman who played for Manchester United for much of his professional career, Cantona became as famed for his virtuosity on the pitch as for his obtuse, arrogant and often baffling statements off it, (One example, "I am not a man, I am Cantona," reappears in the film) he was the (slightly less comprehensible) Muhammed Ali of soccer; an enigmatic genius who fascinated the millions who worshipped him.
It's not surprising then that "Little" Eric (Steve Evets), a lifelong Manchester United fan, would idolise 'Big' Eric and why, in his hour of need and having imbibed certain legally dubious substances, he's the one person he turns to for help. Eric is going through a dark period in his life. Having nearly died in a car accident due to a nervous breakdown brought on by seeing the ex-wife that he is still in love with, he stands, stoned, facing a poster of Cantona and announces his plans to kill himself. At the moment when things look bleakest, Cantona himself - playing a slightly exaggerated version of his public persona - appears and acts as a spiritual guide and starts to help Eric get his life back on track.
Director Ken Loach, better known for his serious dramatic works than his comedies, grounds the film in the realism that typifies his best work. There is a real weight and seriousness to Eric's depression at the beginning of the film without which the Cantona sequences would lose a lot of their resonance. The grim reality of it all tells us all we need to know about Eric - that even though he has friends and family around him, his conversations with Cantona are all that keeps him going - and their scenes together are thrown into even sharper relief, giving the film a strong tragic core upon which to layer its comedy and pathos.
Boiled down to its basic elements, Looking For Eric is a social realist take on It's a Wonderful Life. Cantona, the Clarence of this tale, offers Eric cryptic advice about how he can win back his ex-wife (Stephanie Bishop) and find something to make his life worth living again. The relationship between the two Erics is sweet and funny, and the film gets some huge laughs from the incongruity of an internationally renowned soccer player teaching a postman how to dance, or offering him profound tidbits like "The noblest revenge is to forgive." The warmth of their relationship adds depth to a concept which, if played badly, could have descended into a wacky, stupid comedy. Instead, it becomes a rich, funny story about friends - both imaginary and real - love, life and the escape that sports offers to its fans, and the impact heroes have on the lives of people they may never meet.
As a personal aside, I'm British, and I can't stress just how painful it has been having to write "soccer" over and over when every fiber of my being is telling me to write its one and true name; "football." Writing "fiber" instead of "fibre" also stung a bit. If you get a chance, please see Looking For Eric, if only to make my anguish worthwhile.