Feint of heart

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jonathan Richards

If the name Eric Can­tona means lit­tle to you, a quick primer is in or­der be­fore you set­tle into your seat for this movie. Can­tona was a French-born Bri­tish soc­cer star, a cen­ter for­ward for Manch­ester United, and on the strength of this film’s telling, one of the great­est ever to lace on a pair of cleats. Can­tona is also the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of this movie, so that deck might be a lit­tle stacked.

But the film of­fers a mon­tage of Can­tona’s great­est hits, a high­light reel of bril­liant kicks and head­ers rock­eted past flum­moxed goal­tenders, in sup­port of this claim. In any case you need to know the stature of the man who shares the movie’s ti­tle to ap­pre­ci­ate how he func­tions in this story; oth­er­wise it’s like screen­ing a movie about John El­way to a room­ful of Bel­gians.

There are two Erics in this pic­ture. The other one is Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a sad-sack, mid­dleaged Manch­ester postal worker and die-hard foot­ball (as the rest of the world parochially calls soc­cer) fan. As the movie be­gins, he is driv­ing the wrong way in a round­about in a de­pres­sive stu­por be­fore crash­ing and wind­ing up in the hos­pi­tal.

He’s not wrong to be de­pressed. His life sucks. Bishop lives in a dreary lit­tle Manch­ester row

house with a cou­ple of sullen teenage step­sons, the de­tri­tus of a col­lapsed mar­riage. He’s long es­tranged from his first love, Lily (Stephanie Bishop), whom he aban­doned in a panic at­tack upon the birth of their daugh­ter, Sam (Lucy-Jo Hud­son), now a grown woman with a baby of her own. When Sam asks him to co­or­di­nate babysit­ting with Lily while she goes to classes, Bishop’s guilt and re­gret over­whelm him.

His mates try to buck him up. Laugh­ter be­ing the best medicine, they rally him with jokes. His pal Meat­balls (John Henshaw) con­venes an in­ter­ven­tion and reads aloud from an in­spi­ra­tional self-help man­ual. One of the book’s pro­found sug­ges­tions is that they each look at them­selves through the eyes of some­one they hold in high es­teem. As they go around the group, names like Gandhi and Nel­son Man­dela are put into play. Meat­balls picks Old Blue Eyes, Frank Si­na­tra. Bishop’s choice is Eric Can­tona, “the great­est foot­baller who ever lived.”

He has a poster of the youth­ful Can­tona up on the wall of his bed­room, a strut­ting, con­fi­dent fig­ure, head raised in heroic tri­umph, jersey col­lar turned up with cocky in­sou­ciance. Bishop has al­ways talked to his vir­tual Can­tona, turn­ing up his own col­lar and run­ning ob­ser­va­tions and ques­tions by him, ask­ing for help in the ab­stract, rhetor­i­cal way we do with our idols and gods.

But now Can­tona an­swers. Like Humphrey Bog­art in Woody Allen’s

Play It Again, Sam, Can­tona be­comes a pres­ence, an or­a­cle, a per­sonal de­ity. (“I am not a man. I am Can­tona.”) Loung­ing on the bed in Bishop’s room — older, heav­ier, and bearded — he dis­penses nuggets of wis­dom and ad­vice like a Gal­lic for­tune cookie (“He who is afraid to throw the dice will never throw a six.”).

To­gether they work on putting Bishop’s tat­tered life back in or­der phys­i­cally (they jog) and emo­tion­ally (rap­proche­ment with Lily). There’s also a real mess to sort out in­volv­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion of one of his loutish teenagers with a lo­cal hood­lum.

Can­tona — King Eric to his fans — is equal to the task. “It all started with a beau­ti­ful pass” is a quote from Can­tona that fronts the film. In one of their heart-to-hearts in his bed­room, Bishop asks his imag­i­nary best friend and men­tor what the high­light of his ca­reer was. It wasn’t a game-win­ning goal, Can­tona replies. It was an as­sist, a pass. And the as­sist he is giv­ing Bishop here is what this com­edy is all about. “You have to trust your team­mates,” he tells his pupil. “Al­ways. Oth­er­wise you are lost.”

Trust­ing team­mates fig­ures large in the movie’s endgame, and trust and com­mit­ment are the es­sen­tials that play into the res­o­lu­tion of the love story as well. In the hands of Ken Loach, the di­rec­tor of such gritty fare as Kes, Sweet Six­teen, and The Wind That Shakes the Bar­ley, all this warm­hearted sat­is­fac­tion is roughed up with a heavy grade of sand­pa­per, but the end re­sult is sweet, sat­is­fy­ing, and some­times very funny.

Like Humphrey Bog­art

in Woody Allen’s ‘Play It Again, Sam,’ Eric Can­tona be­cames a pres­ence, an or­a­cle,

a per­sonal de­ity.

The mot­ley crew of bud­dies, played by a pas­sel of Manch­ester stand-up co­me­di­ans, is a dis­tinc­tive and amus­ing lot, and Evets does a great job in the lead. He’s a man who wears his years hard and can work el­e­ments like despair, hope, feisti­ness, and hero wor­ship in a com­pelling mix. (That last name, by the way, is his first name spelled back­ward; it’s the first thing he thought of, he says, when he had to choose a stage name.) Can­tona delivers a re­laxed and gen­tly self-mock­ing per­for­mance in the role de­scribed in the end cred­its as lui-meme. A word of warn­ing: Loach’s films, with their heavy Bri­tish re­gional di­alects, can be hard on the Amer­i­can ear. And here that ear is re­quired to ad­just con­stantly be­tween the Lan­cashire of one Eric and the French ac­cent of the other.

Loach is a pas­sion­ate foot­ball fan, and Look­ing for Eric opens here as the 2010 World Cup heats up in South Africa. De­spite the clas­sic mis­cue against Team USA by Eng­land’s goal­tender in the open­ing game, this movie of­fers a ray of sun­shine for Bri­tish soc­cer and a good time for Amer­i­can movie au­di­ences.

Blow it like Can­tona: Eric Can­tona, left, and Steve Evets

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.