Saturday, 3 August 2013

Review: Starbuck (2011)

Starbuck (2011) is a Canadian comedy film that explores the theme of fatherhood. It's written by Ken Scott and stars Patrick Huard as the protagonist parent of over 500 children. It sounds implausible, but this comedy became 2011's most successful Quebec made movie in the province and raked in over three million dollars at the box office. The success is set to be replicated in the English language as rumours have surfaced that Vince Vaughn is to take the lead in the impending US remake. 

David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is an unreliable soul, who somewhere along the way forgot to grow up. He has few responsibilities, his main one being to deliver meat for his father's butcher business, but it soon emerges he is no good at this either. He owes money to a gang of thugs, who constantly turn up unexpectedly at his apartment and hold his head beneath water and his girlfriend Valerie is pregnant with his child but doesn't feel David is responsible enough to be a father and vows to bring up the child alone. Just when you think things can't get any worse for poor David, he is visited by a lawyer and it emerges that as a former sperm donor, he has fathered over 500 children, 142 of which are attempting to force the fertility clinic to reveal the true identity of "Starbuck" the pseudonym he used for his donations 20 years ago. David is left with a brown envelope containing the identity of his many children, which he promptly puts in the bin.

However, curiosity soon gets the better of him and he picks out a file at random. It emerges that David is the father of Ricardo Donatelli, a successful footballer. Along with his best friend, who is also a lawyer, played by Antoine Bertrand, David attends a match where he anonymously watches his son score the winning goal and becomes instantly filled with parental pride and a new purpose in life. David continues to pick out his children from the file and assumes the role of their guardian angel whilst maintaining his anonymity. Meanwhile, the children, all fighting to reveal his identity, strike up a bond and form a loving and friendly community. David is able to become an anonymous integral part of the group by appearing at a meeting as his disabled son’s adopted father. The court case attracts attention from the international media, branding Starbuck as a pervert and a laughing stock. Something that David's family and expectant girlfriend, unbeknownst that Davis is in fact Starbuck, are all in agreement with. David's left with dilemmas, both financial and moral. But one thing is for sure, whatever decision he makes will change his life forever...

The film initially begins with all of the sentiment of a US gross-out comedy, as a young man frantically masturbates over some porn magazines into a plastic pot but it soon emerges that this scene was not a gratuitous attempt at garnering laughs but the movie’s raison d'etre. Prior to the end of the opening credit sequence, our hopeless protagonist's character is thoroughly established via a brief series of scenes that demonstrate his unreliability and his sheer lack of responsibility. But Huard's performance, his subtle expressions and his affable nature, ensure that the audience, unlike others in the film, won’t give up on him. Starbuck is a gentle, yet chaotic film, its roots tangle somewhat with British rom-com sentiment of Love Actually (2003) and the feel-good factor of Heartbreaker (2010). Also, there is an element of the saccharin of Pay it Forward (2000). However, director Ken Scott includes only a touch of these components, so you never feel your eyes rolling to the back of your head or an urge to reach for the sick-bag.

The story arc is so intriguing that you are constantly aware of the film’s focus, so whether it's a musical montage or a touching sunset scene. Scott's eyes remain firmly on the ball and Huard's performance remains pitch perfect. As David comes into contact with his children we also see him addressing some social prejudices. There's the drug addict, the homosexual, and the disabled. None of which, in their short screen-time come as a stereotypical slap in the face. The characters are well developed and their issues addressed sensitively. What makes this so fascinating is that as an expectant parent, which David also is, a lot of these issues become a concern. Here, David is not having concerns or worrying about the future of his unborn child - he is tackling issues head on and without prejudice and this is Starbuck's main achievement. It's a celebration of the differences of human-kind, and a nonjudgmental approach to life. Another main achievement of the film is, it pulls the rug from under your feet and reveals aspects of Davis's history that make you feel guilty for casting aspersions on his character. It reveals a back story so wonderfully, heart-warming; it practically burns a hole through your rib cage.

Huard, is supported by a great cast, his unlikely partner Valerie, is played with matriarchal coercion by Julie LeBreton. A wonderful ensemble form David's family, but the most notable performance comes from Antoine Bertrand as David's best friend and lawyer, as the two have great chemistry and comic timing that result in the films funniest scenes. For all of its merits, the film is not without its silly/unbelievable moments, particularly the media's reaction to Starbuck.

However, the heart of this film pounds so hard that its beat can easily distract from its flimsy yet imperative attempt at generating tension. Overall, Starbuck is a lovely film. It's heart-warming on so many levels yet doesn't overdo it to a gag inducing effect. It's directed in a bright, light-hearted tone and director Scott keeps his focus tightly on human relationships and knows his audience well enough to mute out the bore of legalities and court-room scenes with appropriate, yet emotionally instructive music, but the comprehensive fun of the film never wanes. Essentially the film is the story of one man's attempt to become a better person and you will feel like one, if you find it in your heart to embrace Starbuck, despite its minor faults.

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