Director: Ken Scott
Cast: Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand, Igor Ovadis, David Michaël, Patrick Martin, David Gigučre, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content, language and some drug material)
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 3/22/13 (limited); 3/29/13 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 28, 2013
A good heart has not gotten David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) too far in life, and that same quality only gets Starbuck so far, too. Like its likeable loser hero at the start, the movie aims for a lower rung, grabs the bar, and, without much ambition to guide it, hangs there with no desire to climb any higher.
That is not to say Starbuck—again, like its pseudonym-sake (and that's the last of the obvious comparisons)—does not have its good qualities. The movie is amiably amusing and features a surprisingly kindhearted approach to an unlikely story that could easily assume a less gentle tone and partake in some obvious jokes. Instead, the screenplay by director Ken Scott and Martin Petit focuses on how an over-eager activity of David's past serves as an impetus for his evolution from a man-child with no goals into a man willing to take responsibility for his life and participate in the lives of others.
David works as a delivery man for his family's grocery store. Everyone tells him it's the easiest job there, and they also make sure he knows he's terrible at it. His girlfriend Valérie (Julie LeBreton) has had enough of him after a long stretch of time during which he wasn't making any contact with her and his hesitance to let her into his life. He doesn't even let her visit his apartment, though he has good reason: He's growing marijuana there.
You see, David is debt to some goons for $80,000, and the pot was his get-rich-quick scheme. He's even failed at that enterprise, and now the goons are getting impatient, showing up at his place in the middle of the night to hold him underwater in his own bathtub until he gets the picture.
Making matters more complicated, Valérie is pregnant, and she's not sure if she wants David to be a father to the future child. He insists that he can get his life together, but then another unwelcome visitor, the lawyer for a local sperm bank, turns up in his apartment with some unexpected news.
A little over 20 years ago, David made frequent deposits to the sperm bank under the name "Starbuck" (The movie gets its most obvious masturbation joke out of the way in the opening scene), and due to a clerical error, only his samples were used at the fertility clinic. He has fathered over 500 children, and 142 of them are suing the clinic in order to find out who their biological father is. His best friend and attorney (Antoine Bertrand), a cynical father of a string of children himself (nowhere near the number David finds out he has, obviously), will fight in court to protect David's anonymity, but he's also received an envelope with pictures and profiles of all the claimants in the suit, all of them hoping that their unknown father will find it in his heart to come forward of his own volition.
Tempted by the contents of the envelope, David decides to look at just one profile and learns that one of his progeny is a famous soccer player. He looks at another and another—one at a time—and with each one, he makes a clandestine visit—as a stranger or, in one instance, a curious pizza delivery man—and winds up helping them.
There's a fine balance that Scott achieves in these scenes, ensuring that they never become too saccharine (The absurd nature of the premise helps on an innate level). These are simple acts of kindness, like when he takes over the bartending shift of one of his sons Étienne (Patrick Martin), an aspiring actor who has an important audition to make. A sequence in which he discovers his daughter Julie (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) overdosed after an upsetting phone call places him in the awkward position of "pretending" to be her father to a doctor who argues that the young woman needs treatment for her addiction. Confronted with an actual parental decision, he goes back and forth, and when he decides, he makes sure to follow up on her. It's the first time we've seen him hold himself to a form of accountability.
The majority of the children are introduced in a montage of his—to them—random acts of a guardian angel, and we quickly become desensitized to the nameless, faceless throng of young people with problems big and small. The movie's good intentions are still there, but when David accidentally ends up in the middle of a meeting for the class action targeting him, the screenplay's priorities change. David's duplicity, innocent at first, becomes a little less endearing as he pretends to be the legal guardian of his disabled son (The few scenes of them together are genuinely touching, relying almost entirely on silence) to spend more time with his children without giving away his identity.
When the actual legal arguments begin, the premise of Starbuck loses its harmless contrivance for a more forced form of it, and the balance of tone shifts decidedly in favor of unrestrained sentimentalism, neatly dismissing each and every real and potential conflict that the movie has established. The movie deserves credit for avoiding the pitfall of becoming crass, but in the process, it finds a few others.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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