Growing tired of the lazy, pot-smoking, man-child protagonist in American comedies? Then perhaps it’s time to give the lazy, unreliable, man-child protagonist in Canadian comedies a go. There’s a chance it’s been done better.
Starbuck, the acclaimed French-Canadian comedy that debuted in 2011, is now being shown in limited release in the United States, including in Los Angeles for the first time.
The film centers on a 42-year-old named David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), who is better known by his local sperm bank under the alias of “Starbuck” — he has, after all, donated his sperm there nearly 700 times. David has never given these donations much thought until the day a lawyer shows up and tells him that the clinic made a slight error: It turns out David’s sperm was accidently used exclusively at the clinic for an entire year.
This means that, almost unbelievably, he has fathered a total of 533 children. The real kicker? One-hundred and forty-two of them have now filed a class-action lawsuit against the clinic in an effort to find their biological father’s true identity.
On first glance, David is your classic screw-up. What makes this film stand out is that there is more to him — and more to this film — than some 40-something goofball trying to figure his life out.
The wonderfully talented Huard gives life to David, who works (when he feels like it) as the deliveryman at his father’s butcher shop. At the start of the film, David also owes $80,000 to questionable lenders while his girlfriend, Valerie (Julie Le Breton) is pregnant and questioning David’s reliability to raise a family with her.
Huard manages to bring a certain lovable quality to the role that serves to ground the outlandish story. His charm takes the film, which is being marketed as a comedy, to a gentler level. Though there are definite laugh-out-loud moments, the scenes that one walks away fondly remembering are the ones that hit that soft spot of the heart.
When David is given a folder stacked with the 142 profiles of the offspring who are now suing him, he is at first hesitant to peek inside, but eventually his curiosity prevails. One by one, he blindly picks from the folder to reveal the identities of a number of the human beings he selfishly helped to create.
Throwing himself into a dizzying crash course of parenting, David tracks down a number of his children — sometimes even barging in on what might be the most important days of their lives.
He learns that he has fathered a star professional soccer player, a struggling actor, a lonely drug addict, an unemployed musician and a disabled son, among many others. He forms relationships with some of them, appointing himself as their guardian angel, but is careful not to reveal himself as their father.
The film oozes with bittersweet narratives like that, and Huard shines in his role, masterfully steering the film toward sentimental, but not sappy, moments.
When David is led to one of the meetings meant to organize the case against him, he finds himself surrounded by a room full of his own children. Handling that scene required just the right touch of sentiment and Huard is spot-on as he portrays a character racked with guilt, questioning whether or not he should go through with the countersuit to protect his identity at all.
Still, the film is a comedy and before it gets too heavy, David’s goofy best friend, Avocat (Antoine Bertrand), steps in as his lawyer and provides much of the film’s comedic relief. Though the film is in French with English subtitles, Bertrand’s pitch-perfect comedic timing comes through well and keeps the story rolling smoothly.
At the time of its original release in 2011, Starbuck was a huge success, winning a number of awards internationally and locally. Aided by exceptional writing, superb performances and thoughtful direction, the film has been embraced as a refreshing take on the popular man-child narrative.
DreamWorks Animation has already jumped on the rights for an upcoming American remake. Set to release in fall 2013, the American version, titled The Delivery Man, will star Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smoulders and Chris Pratt.
Seeing as it will be directed by Ken Scott, the skillful director/co-writer of Starbuck, the odds are it will most likely prove to be just as fertile as the original.
But until then, the French-Canadian Starbuck is more than able to provide a feel-good comedy option for English-speakers.
Starbuck is playing in limited release at the Landmark Theatre and will also be released in select theaters in Pasadena, Encino and Orange County on March 29.