Movie Review: Starbuck
By Matthew Huntley
March 20, 2013
Starbuck tells another one of those coming-of-age stories about a grown man in a perpetual state of arrested development. We’ve seen movies like this before and we’ll certainly see them again, probably because the concept stems from the essential nature of men who sometimes dream of a carefree, put-up-your-feet-and-kick-back kind of lifestyle. Most of us either know these people or are these people, which is why movies about them are so easy to relate to, not to mention funny.
The man in this case is David Wozniak (Patrick Huard). As is typical of the genre, David is in his late 30s, lives alone and is not overly concerned with his appearance, which would explain his constant five o’clock shadow and unrefined wardrobe. David also plays soccer, occasionally decides he has a girlfriend, and works at his father’s butcher shop with his two family-men brothers, holding down the least responsible duty of picking up and delivering meat, though he sometimes overlooks the second part. Thanks to his failing home marijuana business, he’s also $80,000 in debt to some not-so-friendly drug dealers and desperately needs the money to pay them back; otherwise, the next time they stop by and hold him under water in his own bathtub, they might not let him up.
David has another dilemma. A representative from a sperm bank shows up and tells him he’s fathered 533 children, thanks to his many “sessions” under the code name “Starbuck.” (The movie doesn’t explicitly mention it, but given that David is a bit of a nerd, I’m willing to bet “Starbuck” is a reference to “Battlestar Galactica.”) Now 142 of those children have banded together and formed a coalition to try and get their biological father to come forward so they can meet him. Of course, David is under no legal obligation to reveal himself, but when his girlfriend Valérie (Julie Le Breton) tells him she’s pregnant with his child, which he conceived the old-fashioned, two-person way, it lights a fire under him to reexamine his lifestyle and start taking responsibility.
David’s friend-lawyer, Avocat (Antoine Bertrand), jokingly suggests Valérie get an abortion, and not just because he claims kids suck the energy out of you and subsequently make a man impotent, but because he also knows his friend isn’t exactly father-of-the-year material. Still, David can’t help but look at one of his kids’ profiles and finds out he fathered a professional soccer player. After he attends a game, he’s proud to say his sperm actually gave life to someone with talent and ability. So he decides to look up another, and then another, and another, until he finds himself surreptitiously watching over several of his offspring, going so far as to consider himself their secret guardian angel.
Not all of his kids are rich, successful athletes though. One of his daughters is a meth addict; a couple of his sons work “everyday” jobs as a lifeguard and waiter; another works for spare change playing guitar in the subway; and another is mentally handicapped, living in a hospital. Fortunately the movie doesn’t require all of David’s children to be colorful and unique just to make things more interesting. And yet, even if it had, I would have believed it because there are so many of them. Nevertheless, it wisely doesn’t go over the top with the kids’ quirks and personalities and stays relatively grounded, which makes David’s situation all the more believable.
The movie avoids some of the tougher, more obvious questions that spring to our minds, like how David suddenly finds the time to trek all over Montreal to hang out and observe his kids, or why most of his children still live in the same city, or how they all came together to bring about a class action lawsuit in the first place. I know - such details aren’t necessarily important to the message of the story, which prides itself more on emotion, humor and familial values than realism and plausibility. It invokes lessons about what it means to be a capable and effectual adult and sweetly and lightly reminds us about the major truths of life: it’s hard, not always fair, too short, and almost never turns out the way you plan. But so long as you work hard and remain accountable to the people who love and depend on you, you’ll be able to stop and think about just how good you have it, even if it’s not always obvious. Starbuck is idealistic this way, and there were times when it reminded me of the fantastical cheer of a Frank Capra movie, where it’s almost too saccharine for its own good.
But director and co-writer Ken Scott doesn’t let things get out of control or overly schmaltzy. He keeps Starbuck adult-oriented and mostly credible, even with the all-too-perfect ending. The bottom line is that the movie has its heart in the right place and will almost certainly put a smile on viewers’ faces, even if it consciously sidesteps the moral and ethical issues it brings up. So long as we accept it more as an upbeat, light-hearted drama where everything is bound to work out conveniently, and not as an introspective drama about what children of sperm donors might really ask from their biological fathers, we can appreciate it. The movie’s depth may be limited, but it’s still uplifting and entertaining.