This man is full of surprises – from crafty Premiership passes, to karate-kicking an ignorant hooligan, from famous quotes, to now, making alternative films. What’s more, this film isn’t what you’d initially expect from a franchise about a famous footballer. It certainly does spend time replaying grainy TV moments of Cantona’s golden era, but it’s more about his mystical and quasi-intellectual personality as he becomes the invisible ’fairy-godfather’ to Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a Mancunian postman teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown.
From his depressed and dysfunctional home, Bishop had always looked up to Cantona for his charm, his creativity and his leadership; characteristics sorely lacking in his fathering of his daughter and the parenting of his two teenage stepsons. His daughter Sam (Lucy-Jo Hudson) is the product of his youthful relationship with Lily the girl of his dreams, whom he walked out on for reasons not entirely in his control. Many years later when Sam seeks to finish her degree, Eric and Lily (Stephanie Bishop) are thrown back together again, as they provide daycare for Sam’s young daughter.
The situation is particularly stressful for Eric, who already suffers from lack of confidence and is experiencing problems with his two wayward stepsons – the film opens with Eric cracking under pressure and attempting suicide. After being discharged from hospital, his stalwart gang of Manchester United-mad friends at the Royal Mail attempt to reinvigorate him through humour and meditation.
During once such session, Eric reveals that his inspirational idol is Cantona, and after smoking some of his son’s secret marijuana stash, a dark and sophisticated Cantona apparatus. He guides Eric through his many troubles, communicating through a patois of fluent French and thick-English, which at times are impossible to discern.
In typical British-style, this film is dark and gritty, with a sophisticated sense of humour and an ending that everybody in Hollywood combined, couldn’t preempt. This is standard fare for British director Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley), who often deals with complex social problems in a realist and thus, startling manner. At times this can seem overwhelming, but it invigorates the plot, and sets the film apart from other simplistic feel-good fares.
The acting is superb all-round, especially that of the male lead, Steve Evets (Bishop) and Gerard Kearns, (his troubled son Ryan). Meanwhile it is hard to gauge Cantona’s real acting skills as he seems to be playing the notorious character of…himself, admittedly well. All this gives the film the feel of a ‘topical documentary,’ especially as it references the recent Champion’s League final game (hopeful anticipation perhaps?) and deals with the contemporary issues of parenting and urban British gun culture. The creative ending is lifting, though its legality may be dubious in the eyes of the Law. This eclectic blend adds to the film’s richness, ensuring it is not an overbearing football flick, and making its many deeper concerns accessible to a wider audience.
The title may have a double meaning: This film is just as much about Cantona finding a new direction as it is for the fictional Eric Bishop. Since finishing his epic reign at Manchester United in 1997, Cantona has remained below-radar. For a man of his stature and intelligence, it is not simply enough to join the ranks of rotting ex-footballers clogging up the Mediterranean beaches.
Aside from learning to play the trumpet – as he does amusingly in this film – Cantona needs a new role. Perhaps it’s as a film star? Or perhaps, as newspaper speculation would have it, it’s a much-awaited return to Manchester United? Either way, for everybody who used to sing illicit songs about Cantona, be it in the school yard or on the bustling terraces, it’s a welcome return for the charismatic mystic.
“When the seagulls followed the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”
This time, it seems the seagulls have been well fed.