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Being Eric Cantona

Who's In It: Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs, John Henshaw

The Basics: Eric is a depressed British postal worker and football fanatic in his 50s. He left his young pregnant girlfriend decades earlier and lives with the regret. He's also raising two horrible teenage stepsons from a subsequent marriage gone wrong. And if you know that this movie is from acclaimed director Ken Loach then you're already thinking, "Okay, sure, yes, this is the kind of story he tells. And then the anti-hero gets his face kicked in and dies alone. Roll credits." Except that's where you'd be wrong. Because in this movie that's when Eric decides to light up some of his stepson's pot and begins receiving visits from an inspirational imaginary friend: legendary and beloved footballer Eric Cantona, who gives him advice on how to live. (Hint: he likes to talk about "the balls" whenever he can.)

What's The Deal: The last movie I saw from Loach was the Cannes Palm d'Or-winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about two brothers on opposite sides of the struggle against the British oppression of the Irish in the early 20th century. It ends tragically. So when this film unspools and it turns out to be a kind of grimy It's a Wonderful Life where the moral is "smoke a lot of weed and live in a fantasy world of sports hero worship," it's a little surprising. And for a director whose films are often labeled as the kitchen-sinkiest of the grim Brit kitchen sink realism genre, the fact that Loach includes a scene of bummed-out Eric (as opposed to famous Eric, who plays himself by the way) standing at his own sad, dirty kitchen sink washing sad, dirty dishes with sad, dirty water, feels like he's goofing on his own body of work.

How To Approach Loach: If you've never seen any of his films, then this one is a good place to start. It's got all his usual misery but it's also funny and moving and humane in a way that's difficult to see sometimes when you're being pummeled by the suffering in his other movies. It's primarily about forgiveness, which is not what you expect from an almost-comedy with a stunt-cast soccer star. You can work your way up to Ladybird, Ladybird. That one'll tear your heart out.

Let's Say You Know Nothing About Eric Cantona and Don't Care: That means you're a typical American sports fan who pays no attention to soccer, the world's most popular game. You'd do well to get online and investigate his insanely charismatic, larger-than-life persona. (He's full of idiosyncratic aphorisms and possesses an imposing physicality.) Like they sing songs about him over there. That's what a superman he is.

Another Word Of Advice: Sometimes the dialogue is a little thick with regional British slang and garbled words. Loach's films have actually arrived in U.S. theaters with subtitles before, but this isn't one of them. So subsequent DVD viewers will have the opportunity to turn on those captions when they watch. You arthouse patrons, however, are on your own.


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