Saturday 24 November 2012

Frothy latte: "Starbuck"

Soon to be subjected to a Vince Vaughn remake (shudder), Starbuck feels like a lighter, French-Canadian spin on the kind of material certain recession-era US TV hits have made their own. David Wozniak (Patrick Huard, agreeably lined and lived-in) is a cash-strapped delivery driver for a butcher' shop: already being pursued by myriad creditors, he receives a further shock when he discovers the deposits he made for cash at a nearby sperm bank in his younger days have all passed into general circulation - now 142 of the 533 children he's unwittingly fathered are launching a class-action lawsuit, demanding to know his identity.

For a long while, the film's MO is almost identical to that of My Name is Earl, as David anonymously visits selected claimants and tries to make amends for his absent parenting by performing good deeds: allowing an aspirant actor to take the afternoon off from his gig waiting tables, so he can go audition for his dream role, nudging a troubled young woman towards gainful employment. The skittishness would presumably translate easily to a New American Comedy, but holding Starbuck together is a very clever idea that deserves to be brought to a wider audience: the 142 kids will confront our slobbish layabout hero with all of the possibilities of fatherhood, much as Bill Murray's immortal weatherman Phil Connors was forced to endure the myriad possibilities of one day in Groundhog Day, much as George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge were confronted with the best and worst of this world before him.

David's encounters will include seeing one of his sportier sons score the winning goal in a pro football match, and having to sit in awkward silence with a severely handicapped boy confined to a wheelchair in a children's home. (Somehow, you can't imagine the Vaughn version being this inclusive - though there might be some wheelchair-down-stairs comedy.) The highpoint is a comic nightmare that finds David stuck in a conference hall with all 142 claimants, and forced to make an impromptu speech in the guise of a supporter of their cause, which comes close to Groundhog Day's existential terror; after that, there's a lot of conventional family business and much bonding-through-montage, broken up by the odd funny joke and genuine note of poignancy. It has a heart - you just hope Vaughn and his entourage don't trample all over it.

Starbuck is in selected cinemas.

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