4.5 / 5 stars
Sweetness and sentimentality have lost their way in popular film, either booted miserably by another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, or often replaced by snide cynicism, the entertainment tone of the decade. Well, hipster cynics, you can go one of two ways with Starbuck, the unexpectedly tender Canadian hit about the world’s most prodigious sperm donor: Avoid the movie altogether, or give in to its bear-hug of an attitude that says yeah, really wonderful things can happen in a distrustful world. I’m fairly confident the latter is not only the better choice, but unavoidable once you start watching. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
That’s because writer-director Ken Scott knows how to do ‘sweet’ properly, in his story of an aimless screw-up who finds love and direction in the strangest setting. It’s not easy to create warmth and romanticism the right way; it needs to be earned, sincere, wholesome, meaningful. When it’s forced, it’s what we refer to as “A Garry Marshall film.”
The film’s irresponsible heel is David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a scruffy, debt-laden guy who’s too lazy to manage even the simplest jobs for his family’s butcher business. And then David’s life changes drastically. Twenty years after making hundreds of DNA donations, he learns the overwhelming news that his magic semen seed has given life to 533 kids in Quebec. And some twelve dozen of them want to know who he is.
Scott and co-writer Martin Petit follow familiar conventions to set up David’s ineptness, but with strong notes and real humor as David messes up with his dad, his girl, his soccer team. It’s well-worn but also well-done, and a very strong springboard for the rest of the film.
From there, what could be a continual, joke-y comedy of errors is instead an engaging story of self-awareness, self-sacrifice and the bonds of family. As David anonymously drops in on a few of his “kids,” he realizes how quickly he can affect their lives, thus putting the wheels of his emotional progress in motion. Huard is fantastic at bringing childlike innocence to David, clearly astounded by his own inner development, without overselling the wonder of such a bizarre scenario. The sequences in which he meets his offspring range from comical to deadly serious, yet the human touch is consistent and unmistakable.
When Huard isn’t delivering a deft blend of heart and laughs, he’s the straight man to Antoine Bertrand as his best pal, a failed lawyer representing David in the class-action suit that would force him to reveal his identity. The interplay between the two has a fun theatricality, mostly thanks to the script’s silliness. But, as with all of Starbuck, there’s a soft, emotional center to it all, the second banana finding his own value as a friend, lawyer and son.
Which gets us back to the focal theme of Starbuck: Family. While uptight cultures (like the U.S.) debate what “defines” family, Scott’s story puts a twist on the familial unit far beyond The Kids Are All Right, bringing together 140 siblings to love and care for one another. By the film’s satisfying final scenes, Scott and company are tugging at heartstrings earnestly and damn effectively.
Of course, Hollywood has been at work for about a year to adapt Starbuck into an English-language film, now titled The Delivery Man. (And in a stroke of brutal obviousness, Vince Vaughn has been lined up to play David.) Last year, Dreamworks CEO Stacey Snider told Variety “we saw the potential for a commercial remake with universal appeal.” Hey, Stacey, Starbuck already has it. In any language.