By Joan Ellis
It was a split decision among us last night at Starbuck but since I am the one with the pen, I’ll give you my side of it. And that will be pure pleasure since I am still awash in the unexpected charm of this story.
Directed by Ken Scott and co-written with Martin Petit, this film, subtitled for the French Canadian language, is a victory for the sharp wit of its makers. Whenever the movie edges toward sentimentality, director Scott offers instead some marvelous problem wrapped in laughter.
David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is an irresponsible, often incompetent slacker. As a deliveryman for a butcher shop, he is a sometime lover of policewoman Valerie (Julie LeBreton) and a spark plug for his after-hours soccer team. Irresponsible in both roles, he is the despair of his co-workers, his boss, his teammates, his father, siblings, cousins and Julie. And that’s to say nothing of how he affects his friend and unlicensed lawyer Avocat (Antoine Bertrand).
At nearly the same moment that Julie announces she is pregnant, we learn also that in his youth, David financed his life by making frequent donations to the local sperm bank under the code name Starbuck. Now, some 20 years later, he is informed that 142 of the 533 children he fathered are bringing a class action suit to discover the identity of their biological father. The story becomes both farce and a wonderfully comic tale of redemption as fatherhood, both existing and impending, cause David to reconsider his own character.
The French Canadian language is the perfect delivery vehicle for sights and sounds that might thud in English. Julie LeBreton, whether she is unleashing a verbal explosion or showing her tender side, is perfect. Antoine Bertrand triumphs as another of life’s losers. Patrick Huard somehow summons the skill to make Starbuck, the father, an entirely credible, lovable player in an entirely incredible farce. It doesn’t get much better than this.
If you laugh only a little while watching Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin, Paul Rudd and Wallace Shawn together in a movie, then something is very wrong. What’s wrong is that both halves of the premise work against each other.
The Princeton Admissions Office must accept some 700 students from 20,000 applicants each year. Dean Wallace Shawn runs his shop with a strong sense of fairness that is upended the minute one of his officers, Tina Fey, gets a phone call from a progressive school founder in New Hampshire, Paul Rudd.
Suspecting that one of his students is the son officer Fey put up for adoption 18 years ago, the founder mounts an offensive to get the boy into Princeton in order to reunite him with his mother. We now have a second plot that is poignant rather than funny, one that asks us to switch our emotional gears too often. Even the four talented principals can’t help us navigate this odd mix of comedy and drama. Too bad.
Rated R and PG-13
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.