If "Starbuck," the opening night selection of the Milwaukee Film Festival, is a sign of things to come in the next two weeks, movie fans can look forward to a lot of great cinema. The French-Canadian comedy, scheduled for release next March, takes a fairly bawdy story and makes it not only hilarious but effortlessly charming and surprisingly touching.
The film follows David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a typically irresponsible slacker whose only skills include collecting parking tickets, debts and disappointed stares from his father, who doubles as his boss at a butcher shop. Despite his lackadaisical schemes – including a failed attempt to create a pot garden – and his irreverent lawyer's warnings, David would love to have kids.
But as one trite saying goes, be careful what you wish for. David discovers that, thanks to some anonymous sperm donations decades ago, he's not only the father of one child but 533 children, and 142 of them are filing a class action lawsuit to uncover his identity. While he's hesitant at first to get involved with his massive brood, much less reveal his embarrassing secret, he starts to warm up to some of the struggling young adults and begins acting as their bumbling guardian angel.
It's a loosely told story that works both for and against "Starbuck." On one hand, the lax storytelling creates an easy-going and comfortable vibe that fits co-writer/director Ken Scott's film. At the same time, it creates a few problems for the movie. The screenplay offers several jarringly dark turns – one involves drug abuse – and some of its subplots, like David's cute romance with his pregnant girlfriend, while still charming, don't get a ton of screen time to develop.
Luckily, the movie has a great performance at its heart from Huard. As "Starbuck" starts, his character seems like a prototyipcal lazy manchild that we've seen time and again in comedies, especially those with the Judd Apatow stamp of approval. Huard, however, aces the deadpan humor as well as the little nuances that make David and his dramas feel sincere, sweet and wholly original.
The whole film, in fact, finds that balance between its crude concept and its big, earnest heart. Even when "Starbuck" indulges in a surprisingly dark twist, Huard and Scott's direction find a way to make it somehow satisfying. When David finds out one of his 142 children is disabled, for instance, it could've ended in utter cinematic disaster. After all, this is a movie that starts with Huard masturbating into a cup, so taking on serious topics seems like a reach. However, it ends up being a surprisingly poignant sequence that doesn't weigh down the rest of the comedy as well.
Thanks to the impressive reviews and reactions coming out of film festivals, "Starbuck" has already been pegged for an American remake. On the good side, Scott is returning to write and direct. On the awful side, Vince Vaughn has been cast in the lead. I doubt Vaughn's often grating fast-talking everyman routine will make the lead character more endearing. Plus, most of the serious and emotional content of "Starbuck" will probably be Hollywood-ized into something far more accessible – and bland.
Of course, this is all speculation, and with Scott back behind the camera, the remake might be able to maintain some of its predecessor's wit. That being said, I'd still hunt down the original "Starbuck" before its charm and humor risk getting lost in translation.
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