Film Review – Starbuck
I’ll admit it. I’ve been known to shed a tear or two during a particularly moving film. I complain a lot about false sentimentality, but that doesn’t stop me from welling up when the occasion warrants it. (Or sometimes when it doesn’t. I HATE it when a slick director or editor can bring me into tears even when I know I am being manipulated. HATE IT.) Did I cry at the end of Starbuck? Yup. Was I embarrassed about it? Kind of. Did I feel as though the tears were justified? Yeah. Starbuck is schmaltzy and sentimental with a gooey center, and as much as I tried not to enjoy it, I did. I saw this at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival and the promotional materials described it as a “light-hearted, guaranteed crowd-pleaser.” And you know, it was—and not in a bad way.
Directed by Ken Scott, Starbuck tells the story of Quebec native David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), who’s kind of a sad sack. He’s a nice enough guy, but nothing ever seems to work out right for him. He delivers meat (slowly) for his father’s butcher shop, owes $80,000 to some pretty unsavory characters, and has impregnated his girlfriend, who is not so sure she wants this idiot man-child in her life. In addition to all of these problems, David learns that there are some “issues” with the sperm donations he made when he was younger. For some reason, the clinic ended up using only his sperm, and now he has 533 biological children, and 142 of them want to know who he is. He’s not really emotionally ready to own up to all of this, and hides behind the donor privacy laws enacted to protect people in this situation. When the (young adult) children file a class action law suit to force him to come forward, he hires his best friend, lawyer Avocat (Antoine Bertrand), to protect his interests.
The children provide David with their profiles, and against his lawyer’s advice, he opens the packet and begins to read them one at a time. Out of curiosity, he then tracks down each child. (I use the word “child,” but this particular batch of children appears to be in their early twenties or late teens, so it doesn’t seem as creepy as if he were following twelve-year-olds around.) One by one, he meets his biological children and discovers both the wonderful and sad stories of their lives. For some of them, he takes on what he thinks of as a guardian angel role—not getting too involved in their lives, but acting in small ways when he deems appropriate. As the trial to reveal his name gets closer and closer, David must make the decision to stay the perpetual adolescent he has always been, or become the man he would like to be.
What makes this film work is the great performance of Patrick Huard. His David can be an idiot, but he is a kind-hearted idiot with the capacity for growth. For the most part, he’s avoided moving into adulthood, but when his life takes a turn for the interesting, he is able to step up and roll with the punches. (You get the feeling he’s had to roll with a lot of punches in his lifetime.) He’s such a likeable character that it’s hard not to root for him even when he is doing something remarkably stupid like loaning his meat delivery van to a total stranger. His attitude towards the children is always positive; he assumes the best about them even when that appears to be a dubious proposition. He is not as kind to himself at first, but as the film proceeds, he gives himself a break and acknowledges that he, too, can grow up and be the kind of person that others can depend on.
The success of this film rides on the likability of this character; it’s a pretty fantastical tale, and the film is not above putting its heart right out there on its sleeve. When handled poorly, this kind of material has the possibility of being a mushy nightmare or a cynical ploy, but the filmmakers here take it right to the edge of sentimentality without pushing it over into crap. It very purposely keeps things on the light side, and some of the darker aspects of David’s life, such as the threats by loan sharks, are underplayed, as are some situations that the children find themselves in. But for the movie to dwell longer on those aspects would be to create a different kind of movie altogether—one that might not be a crowd-pleasing comedy. What the film lacks in depth, it makes up for in heart, and I left the theater happy to have seen it.
Final Grade: B+