An ingratiating comedy based on the premise that it takes a village to raise an adult, Starbuck is the story of David Wozniak, a 42-year-old adolescent who still eats Honeycomb cereal and dresses in vintage sports jerseys.
Now David’s girlfriend is pregnant. It’s commitment time. But our protagonist is nervous. Still working as a meat delivery man for his dad, and late for every call, David (Patrick Huard) has no reason to believe he might be party to the successful delivery of a child.
And then a lawyer appears in the clutter of his apartment with startling news: Twenty years ago, David decided to turn a favourite hobby into cash. Adopting the alias Starbuck, he made 693 deposits to a sperm bank within a two-year period.
Incredibly, 533 of his swimmers crossed the finish line. David is biological father to half the CEGEP sophomores in Montreal. The lawyer’s news comes with a kicker, though. The kids have discovered their father’s alias, and 142 of them have unionized and are coming after the old man for support.
“ C’est un peu weird,” reflects one player in the Starbuck saga. And veteran Quebec screenwriter Ken Scott ( La grande séduction) certainly scores points for storytelling audacity. Still, it’s his finesse with sight gags that makes his directorial debut so much fun.
Springy diving boards and wet soccer pitches become an excuse for inspired bits of slapstick as bumbling David tries to sneak into his children’s lives. Elsewhere, Scott reveals a talent for storytelling with deft bits of visual shorthand:
When David brings girlfriend Valérie (Julie LeBreton) home to meet his Polish-Québécois family, Scott first pans the wall in the family room, showing us a portrait of Pope John Paul II, family knick-knacks, a few bottles of good booze and finally, set apart, perfectly framed, a picture of the dear departed mother. Before we get to the dinner table, we know the close-knit, unpretentious Wozniaks.
Even David’s clothing is a clever reveal. Near the end, Superdad and his lawyer (Antoine Bertrand) suffer through a Charlie Brown interlude, playing soccer in a pounding rainstorm. David wears a Cleveland Browns football jersey. His lawyer sports a New York Giants baseball sweater. Both teams quit their cities long ago. Another way for Scott to tell us that these guys are heartsick losers.
Of course, all of this is a set-up for the film’s feel-good ending. We know that going through, but don’t mind a bit. Not even the warm and fuzzy scenes, like when David learns to take responsibility for his own life by accepting responsibility for his children, carting a young man out in a wheelchair to enjoy a postcard sunrise.
Smarmy, you bet. And the film’s you-don’t-have-to-grow-old-to-grow-up message is formula stuff. Starbuck is unapologetic genre filmmaking with a winning performance from its lead, Huard ( Bon Cop, Bad Cop), a shambling, likeable comedian who can flip, flop and fly off a diving board while maintaining his sex appeal.
The French-language film has already grossed over $2-million in Quebec and was recently voted the third-most-popular film at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Why can’t Canadians outside of Quebec make funny films that Canadians want to see?
They can. Witness the success of Seth Rogen, Mike Myers, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Reynolds and Jim Carrey.
They just have to go to the United States to make them.