8.4
Movies  |  Reviews

Starbuck

March 21, 2013  |  10:05am
<i>Starbuck</i>

Recycling is a big deal in Hollywood right now. Not the green variety, where placing plastic and glass in the proper containers yields a healthier planet (although that has been quite the cause célèbre from time to time)—no, this is the more cynical version that produces a decidedly different kind of green, and is responsible for regurgitated versions of all manner of material, from lackluster 1970s television to Asian police dramas. Studios believe that familiarity breeds content, and if an audience is even vaguely aware of the original, that audience will choose a mediocre known quantity over risk with the potential for greatness. Vince Vaughn and DreamWorks are hoping to trade on this trend with a remake of Starbuck, due out later this year. But no matter the quality of the retread, they should have left this French-Canadian gem alone—not because recycling is bad, but because Ken Scott’s original is so damned good.

The heartfelt slacker comedy stars the affable Patrick Huard as the titular franchise coffee shop code named donor, a man so prolific in his donations to the local fertility clinic that it spawns a hilarious opening sequence, not to mention a horde of progeny. Fast forward some twenty years later and we get reacquainted with the man formally known as David Wozniak, a perennial screw-up that can’t even get the lowest rung in the family business right. He owes some bad men a lot of money, his girlfriend is reluctantly pregnant, and to top it all off, there are now about 150 French-Canadian hipsters with daddy issues who want to know who he is. This could have been played with a high level of cynicism, with banal humor and a distasteful edge. But credit director Scott for steering away from that precipice, instead infusing Starbuck with warmth and charm. This is due, in no small part, to Huard. You root for him to get things right—he is in many ways the antithesis to Ben Stiller’s perpetual nebbish loser, albeit with the same struggles. Rather than hoping that more harm befalls him in the name of schadenfreude, you want him to get his life on track so that he can earn the existence he deserves.

Starbuck comes to want a better life once fatherhood is foisted upon him like the world’s strangest inheritance. At first, he typically resists responsibility at the behest of his nagging, cynical best friend/lawyer (the excellent Antoine Bertrand), but then his childlike curiosity gets the best of him, and that leads us to the best moments of the film. There’s a High Fidelity feel to the way David goes in search of his children, learning a bit about who they are and trying to help them in small, human ways. Predictably, the learning happens on both sides of the generation gap. We see flashes of him in his flock as he plays guardian angel—they’re trying hard but missing the mark, and all they need is a little love and guidance to get their lives on track. This is where our unlikely hero begins to see his future as he looks into his past—the village idiot may have given life to an entire village, but he’s good at loving people for who they are because that’s all he wants in return.

Cynics will balk at the cloying schmaltz of such sentiment, decrying the idea that parenthood can have such immediate power, especially over someone so previously unconcerned with any such duty. But the film just smiles past these contrivances, insisting that the sins of unreality are forgivable as long as they’re working to reveal the humanity underneath. Honestly, the biggest stretch here is a sequence where his massive, merry band of castoffs get together and go to lonely camp where they play soccer, barbecue and take huge group photos. These parts aren’t so much funny as they are familial—they serve to showcase the glory of togetherness, as saccharine as it may be. But there’s something refreshing about a film unapologetic in the face of a landscape that dictates most comedy comes from pain. This is a feel-good movie about a man who made himself feel good a lot. It is the warm bed we want to crawl into at the end of the day, and that is a feeling that never gets old, no matter how many times it’s recycled.

Director: Ken Scott
Writer: Martin Petit
Starring: Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand
Release Date: Mar. 22, 2013

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