MRR Review: Starbuck

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David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is a lovable yet perpetual screw up who, at the age of 42, has finally decided to take control of his life. A habitual sperm donor in his youth, he discovers that he's the biological father of 533 children, 142 of whom are trying to force the fertility clinic to reveal the true identity of the prolific donor code-named Starbuck.
3.5

MRR Review: Starbuck

-- Rating: R
Length: 109 minutes
Release Date: Mar. 22, 2013
Directed by: Ken Scott
Genre: Comedy

What a curious feature of the modern world that humor may be derived from chaotic family histories and madcap paternity suits. What would have been grim commentary in a documentary from forty years ago and unfit to be mentioned just a century back is today the sort of thing to be, not merely laughed off, but tossed out to an audience who are positively looking for lighthearted fun and a break from serious matters; progress, of a sort.

"Starbuck" is the tale of a man with problems. He has something like 143 problems, actually. After the forty-something slacker David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant with their child, he struggles to come to grips with the new reality of his unexpected fatherhood. Meanwhile, 142 of his other children, conceived over the years via artificial insemination, start coming out of the woodwork to not only make their presence known, but to engage him in a class-action lawsuit.

As a premise, "Starbuck" has its flaws. The fact that no civilized legal code in the world recognizes a sperm donor as being somehow responsible for child support or requires him to make provision for the inevitable offspring of the process somewhat hurts the believability of the movie. Viewers who aren't satisfied with a mantra-like repetition of the phrases suspension of disbelief, it's only a comedy or even stop thinking too much will probably have a hard time relaxing into the central conceit of "Starbuck."

A very similar problem to that just mentioned bedeviled "Double Jeopardy," a suspenseful thriller about a woman whose husband frames her for his murder, only to turn up alive after she beats the rap. According to movie logic, this means she can go right ahead and kill him in front of a sanguine Tommy Lee Jones, playing Tommy Lee Jones.

This sort of thing aside, "Starbuck" leans rather heavily on its audience's desire to shut down the higher functions and just have a good time for a while. If the audience accepts that movie legal systems don't function in any way close to human legal codes, then and only then does "Starbuck" deliver the comedic romp it promises. Fur flies and scenery collapses as one middle-aged waste of space starts learning the hard way about the consequences of his dissipated life choices.

In this way, "Starbuck" falls into an odd spot; one that's strangely typical of modern films, especially of modern comedies. Over recent years, going back at least to "South Park," a clear trend has emerged in which comedic films use their surface-and, frankly, superficial-humor as sugar to sweeten what, at bottom, is a sermon on moral virtue. If "Starbuck" has morality at its core, the message seems to be that one should mature early in adulthood and take up the mantle of responsibility. Apparently, not only is this adult virtue vastly preferable to an adolescence spent bouncing from one casual affair to another, but the-hilarious!-consequences of a prolonged youth will be more severe the longer they are avoided. Another comedy/sermon in this vein would be "Knocked Up," which had essentially the same message at its core.

"Starbuck" is a French film, and it doesn't have any readily recognizable actors or actresses. Most of the foreign-born performers will be unfamiliar to American audiences. French cinema has been in the habit of discarding its big names rather quickly after their breakthrough hits. Predictable jokes about a new aristocracy and guillotines aside, the idea here seems to be to focus on storytelling, and that a big-name draw would compromise the integrity of the story. Paul Verhoven, who was Dutch, actually adopted a similar tack in his satirical sci-fi epic "Starship Troopers" by hiring only semi-anonymous young actors for his leads.

The cast of "Starbuck," for their part, all perform admirably. The custom of using ingénues wherever possible seems to have focused the performances of cast members marvelously. Julie LeBreton especially, should come in for recognition here, she being the only actress in the film nominated for a Genie award.

"Starbuck" has received generally positive attention from critics and the public alike. The foundational issues of its basically very silly premise don't seem to be a deal breaker to viewers and are easily forgotten as the earnest performances begin to win them over.

Rating 3.5 out of 5