Tuesday, August 6, 2013

FI: Starbuck

Canada, 2011
Directed and Co-written (with Martin Petit) by Ken Scott

Perhaps its a reflection of our recession-struck times, but American comedies today largely focus on 30/40-something manchildren facing crises that force them to grow up over the course of the film. It's interesting, then, to see this arrested development trope translated to other cultures. With Starbuck, we get a chance to see a French-Canadian take on these themes, which lends a slightly new, charming flavor to a concept that's largely gone stale here at home.

Starbuck is about David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a kind but ambition-free fellow who ineptly toils as the delivery man at his family's butcher shop, a job which he'd almost certainly have lost if he weren't in the family. David is deeply in debt to some gangster-types, and it seems unlikely that his dull schemes will ever solve his problems. His girlfriend Valérie (Julie LeBreton) is pregnant, and she isn't sure David is mature and stable enough to be a parent, which is where the film's gimmick kicks in: some 20-odd years earlier, David lived next to a sperm bank and made frequent donations for cash under the codename "Starbuck." Now, a lawyer from the clinic informs David that his sperm was somehow given to every client, resulting in over five hundred children, a sizable portion of whom are suing to discover Starbuck's identity. At first apprehensive, David begins reading the files of the class action kids and anonymously insinuating himself into their lives like some sort of guardian angel, believing this to be his true calling. Though we (obviously) only have time to meet a handful of the children, David's encounters with them range from sentimental and cutesy to genuinely touching. He continues protecting his identity in the hopes of winning enough in a counter-suit to cover his debts, but it's clear from the glow on his face that David enjoys his progeny and wants the connection to be mutual.

Scott and co-writer Martin Petit's script relies a little too much on narrative convenience, hitting extremely familiar beats, and the end result of each story thread is fairly predictable from early on in the film. But even as I ticked off the requisite manchild-to-man boxes, Huard's goofy charm and the occasionally quite witty dialogue helped keep the endeavor afloat. Scott keeps the tone light and brisk, even if the film could stand to lose maybe 20 minutes without sacrificing much. Still, Starbuck is an unapologetic crowdpleaser, and its enthusiasm is contagious. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I found myself won over in the end. As a final note, I would recommend watching it now before the forthcoming, Vince Vaughn-starring American remake The Delivery Man buries the original's charms under Vaughn's lazy shtick.

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