The feel-good movie is somewhat of an enigma when it comes to the end result. Collectively, so many share the same exact elements: ample schmaltz, the odd contrivance and an ending born straight out of a Disney cartoon. Yet while some work remarkably well, others simply come off as manipulative, pandering tripe. Thankfully in the case of Starbuck, its earnest nature, winning performances and wry humour assemble in a hugely palatable way, which helps it to become one of the more charming films I’ve seen in recent memory.
The title Starbuck comes from a pseudonym used by 40-something slacker David Wozniak (Patrick Huard). However, it just so happens that this particular alias was constructed for purposes of the professional self-pleasuring variety. That is to say it’s the name he put down on the paperwork at the sperm donor clinic. Years after his sordid activities, broke and expecting a child, he learns that he may in fact already have some offspring. In fact, he may have 533 spawn, 142 of whom have just filed a class action lawsuit against him to find their father’s true identity. Though he sprints to his friend and lawyer Avocat (Antoine Bertrand) in an attempt to quash the suit, he foolishly peaks inside the folder containing the identity of his children and a redemptive journey begins.
Starbuck successfully encompasses a number of tropes found in films of this nature, though thanks to its unique (if silly) premise, it makes them feel new again. For instance, the “guardian angel” device where a recently deceased character rights wrongs from beyond the grave becomes David stealthily interacting with a number of his kids when they need a helping hand. Likewise, the film as a whole could be considered a romantic comedy with the brood replacing the male or female love interest that is commonly found. However, the kinks that are ultimately thrown between David revealing himself to his extended family are both more potentially life-altering and grounded in some semblance of reality.
Much of Starbuck’s success can be attributed to the lead performance from Huard who strikes the perfect balance between good-natured loser, sarcastic rouge and eventually a troubled man trying to do the right thing. His delivery and mannerisms fit the somewhat sardonic material immensely well and simply put he’s just damn charming. Even more cynical and ironic is the Avocat character who is the film’s purest form of comic relief (not that it really needed it). Every scene with him and David works wonderfully and a final climactic scene which finds him in a moment of (short lived) triumph will have you in stitches.
Unfortunately as is the case with most schmaltzy material, Starbuck indulges in clichés, occasional bloat and contrivance. A subplot involving David owing $80,000 to some unscrupulous folks is utterly unnecessary and is resolved with very little bearing on the overarching story. The film also hammers home our protagonist’s slacker status a tad too heavily early on and it’s thanks mainly to Huard’s talents that we believe his ultimate transformation.
Then there are his children who are comparative (and thinly written) angels when put up against their father and even those who fall into bad habits are set on the right path by their guardian by the next scene. Or perhaps I’m mistaken and a heroin addiction actually can be kicked overnight.
It’s the earnest nature and winning humour that ultimately make Starbuck work though, as even when it descends into sentimentality the film keeps its wits and maintains its credibility. Take for instance a late scene where David’s many offshoots show up for the birth of his baby – that is to say their sister – and indulge in a group hug. Cheesy to the hilt, yes, but writer-director Ken Scott has the good sense to toss in the line “that was weird” immediately following.
Those generally uninterested in a subtitled, French Canadian lark won’t have long to wait as an American remake called Delivery Man has already been completed with Vince Vaughan taking on the David role and Chris Pratt that of Avocat. I actually cringe at the thought of this venture. Starbuck itself walked a thin line between charm and mauldlinism and with the removal of Huard and the French style of humour I can’t see it being duplicated with much success. The only ray of hope is that Scott will return as scribe and director so perhaps he sees the potential. But I digress, and will simply say check out this original before the remake lands.
All of the sincerity on display in this comedy is certainly infectious and while not groundbreaking by any means, it’s constructed with enough of an identity to stand apart. With appealing leads and some scenes that will tug at the heartstrings and poke at the tear ducts (often in a surprisingly non-manipulative manner) it’s hard to imagine most audiences leaving Starbuck without a grin.
While overly contrived and often slight, Starbuck is a feel-good comedy to be rivalled and benefits immensely from a snappy, wry screenplay and charming performance from Huard.