One of the latest films to be captured by Hollywood for replication, Canadian film Starbuck is a heartfelt comedy about a forty-something slacker whose past as a sperm donor comes back to haunt him.
David Wozniak (played by Patrick Huard), a middle-aged man living without a steady job or a care in the world, is having enough trouble reacting to his girlfriend’s pregnancy when he finds out that thanks to his frequent sperm donations in his early twenties, more than 500 children were born as a result. Worse yet, 140 of them are seeking out his identity.
With this uniquely comedic set-up, one would be forgiven for expecting the makers to go down the route of cheap laughs with a soppy ending in which “we all learn something valuable about ourselves”. However, Starbuck is a film much more than that. The revelation of David’s vast family ties kick-starts the character into action to turn his life into something that he, his family and his estranged kids can be proud of, instead of waiting for the end of the film.
This narrative is taken seriously and propels the film forward, instead of being used as an opportunity for mishaps. The comedy comes as a result of the narrative, instead of the reverse, which is so often seen, and results in unfulfilling comedies. Instead, Starbuck constructs its cynical brand of humour in service to its characters and emotional flow, to the benefit of all. At times, this darkness can land slightly off the mark but overall, the comedy is unique and hilarious.
As the film continues, David quickly comes into contact with many of the children seeking him out. These characters are populated by many archetypes (such as the addict, the homosexual, the actor etc.) that are focused on in particular. Whilst this could be seen as lazy, it in fact works effectively to show the wide spectrum that David must deal with, and presents several opportunities for the character to attempt to deal with each in turn. The most poignant moments of the film come when David spends time with his disabled son Raphael. These scenes work well to ground the film in the world of emotional exposition instead of the comedic whimsy.
Family values are at the core of Starbuck, particularly those of men, as aside from David’s girlfriend Valerie (played by Julie LeBreton), there are no other prominent female characters. Instead, David is surrounded by his father and brothers, which provides an interesting study into male views of parenting and family. Starbuck covers its bases here, as whilst his family are supportive yet critical of David’s lifestyle, his lawyer and best friend Avocat (hilariously played by Antoine Bertrand) is more pessimistic on parenting, due no doubt to his numerous children and subsequent sleeping-pattern. This contrast shows the differing opinions of paternal instinct, but does well to support the more positive outlook, instilling the narrative with a heartfelt yet un-manipulative tone.
Despite appearing in every scene, Patrick Huard carries the film extremely successfully as David Wozniak. His charismatic, emotional and sympathetic portrayal of a man whose choices would normally not deserve such a reaction is both a surprise and a pleasure to spend time with. Similarly, director Ken Scott’s ability to instill the film with both warmth and isolation works well in partnership with Huard’s performance, as does his great awareness for comedy.
Truly a heartfelt comedy with its characters at the core, Starbuck is a hilarious, touching and joyful story of an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. Accompanied by a great soundtrack, the film is full of engaging characters brought together by a unique and absorbing narrative full of hilarious moments. The true disappointment of Starbuck is that its success will no doubt be diminished by the Hollywood remake (to star Vince Vaughn), which will likely have nothing on this genuinely enjoyable original.
Best bit: The “Children of Starbuck” camping weekend provides the most emotive and enjoyable scenes of the film, and embodies the richly warm spirit of the movie.