Friday, March 22, 2013

Starbuck: French Canadian Family Values

David Wozniak was only ever good at one job.  It was more of a calling than a form of employment.  When he really needed money twenty-some years ago, he made regular deposits at a sperm bank.  Now 142 of his 533 previously unknown offspring are suing to learn his identity in Ken Scott’s Starbuck (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Wozniak’s donor kids only know him by his confidential alias, Starbuck.  American audiences will presume he is a fan of Melville, Battlestar Galactica, or coffee, but evidently there was a famous stud bull by this name up north—evidently an obvious reference for most Canadians.  This probably says a lot about the national psyche.  Scott is already in production on his American remake, wisely re-titled Delivery Man.  That is Wozniak’s current job, which he does poorly.

Wozniak has also just impregnated Valérie, his copper ex-girlfriend, who is dead set against having a loser like him as the father of her child.  He is trying to make his case as a prospective dad, despite being $80,000 in debt to loan sharks, when he learns of the suit against.  His slightly disbarred attorney buddy assures him this is actually good news, providing grounds for a counter suit against the clinic.  Yet, against his better judgment, Wozniak starts checking out his grown kids, becoming a sort of a big brother-guardian angel.  Some comedy ensues and lessons will be learned.

Starbuck has a major case of niceness that accelerates into full scale sentimentality during the third act.  Frankly, it is perfect material for Hollywood.  Nonetheless, it is not so terrible to build a film around the manboy’s late embrace of responsibility.  Patrick Huard’s shaggy dogness nicely fits the role and wears easily on viewers.  In contrast, Vince Vaughn’s sarcastic persona seems at odds with the gentle spirit of the Canadian original, but perhaps Scott can rein him in for Delivery Man.

Huard is indeed a likable sad sack and Julie LeBreton brings some maturity as Valérie.  Unfortunately, Wozniak’s brood essentially amount to a parade of stock characters, aside from the institutionalized son (kind of a gutsy choice there).  Yet, Antoine Bertrand’s wince-inducing shtick as Wozniak’s dubious lawyer will consistently set viewers’ teeth on edge.

Starbuck addresses similar themes as the Indy Lens doc Donor Unknown, but despite his myriad shortcomings, Wozniak is a much more appealing pseudo-father figure than the real life hippy serial depositor profiled in Jerry Rothwell’s film.  Frankly, Scott clearly likes all his characters too much to over-burden them with uncomfortable reality.  Mildly pleasant to watch, but only amounting to empty cinematic calories, Starbuck opens today (3/22) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.