Prolific and terrific

There are 533 good reasons to see the new Canadian comedy ‘Starbuck.’

Starbuck (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
STARBUCK Directed by Ken Scott Written by Scott and Martin Petit With Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bernard Running time: 109 minutes In French with English titles
Pop quiz: The new Canadian French-language comedy Starbuck is: A) Manipulative B) About sperm donation – a comic topic many of us have long prayed would disappear from the screen C) Quite funny and enjoyable in spite of all this D) All of the above
I picked D), and I think most people will. This film, directed by Ken Scott, tells the story of a schlumpy slacker, David Wozniak (Patrick Huard). At 42, David still works as a deliveryman for the successful Montreal butcher shop established by his father and run by his father and brothers. He also grows pot in his apartment and owes more money than he can hope to repay to a bunch of goons. He’s sweet and funny but utterly irresponsible. He’s never married, and when he surprises his last girlfriend, Valerie (Julie LeBreton ), a policewoman, with flowers, he is stunned to learn that she is pregnant. He feels even worse when she says she doesn’t want him to have anything more to do with her or the child.
Just then, he makes a startling discovery: When he was in his 20s, he donated lots of sperm and has fathered 533 children. Most of them are now adults, and many of them have gotten together in a class-action lawsuit to find out his identity. He is shocked and doesn’t know what to do. His best friend (Antoine Bernard), a pudgy lawyer who seems to spend most of his time caring for his four young children, sees the lawsuit as an opportunity for him to set legal precedent in the cause of privacy rights. While the lawyer works on the case, David receives an envelope containing hundreds of profiles of his biological children.
Most of the movie consists of David picking out a profile at random and then tracking down his offspring. He gets involved in their lives (anonymously) and helps in any way he can. It’s silly and unrealistic, but somehow it works. The young people he’s fathered are a disparate lot. One is a soccer star. Another is an aspiring actor who tends bar, a third is a heroin addict, another plays guitar in the subway and so on. There’s a lifeguard, a gay student and, not surprisingly, considering that there are more than 500 of them, a disabled child, confined to a wheelchair and mute. And there is an annoyingly needy Goth guy whom David can’t get rid of.
They are all shapes and sizes – one is an overweight drunk, and several are mixed race – which is to be expected. If you’ve ever seen a movie, you can guess how getting to know them affects David, but watching it happen is inexplicably fun.
It works as well as it does for two reasons. One is that Patrick Huard, an actor and comedian, is so charming in a role that we’ve seen many times before.
While leading-man handsomeness gleams from beneath his tousled hair and shaggy beard, he convinces us that he is ne’er-do-well David, a guy no one can count on but whom people love anyway. The supporting cast, particularly Bertrand as his lawyer/friend, and the actors playing the adult children, are also good.
The other reason is that, as implausible as this premise is, there is something infectiously joyful about seeing the enormous range of possibility open to people in their 20s.
Those of us who have a couple of kids can fantasize about how our children would turn out if they numbered in the triple digits.
Scott directs with such confidence that at times – particularly in the sequence when David spends the day with Raphael, the disabled boy – you may forget you are watching what is essentially a formula comedy and feel quite moved by it all. The comedy is broad, but it’s so well done that there are a lot of laughs.
The film has been such a huge hit in Canada and Europe that Scott is currently working on an English remake to be called The Delivery Man , which is set to be star Vince Vaughn and be produced by Steven Spielberg. Will he be able to recreate the charm of the original? Stay tuned.