Brilliantly conceived Starbuck delights

One of the year’s best comedies is about to hit cinemas thanks to the French-Canadian duo of director Ken Scott and his co-screenwriter, comedian Martin Petit.  In fact, the Montreal-set Starbuck has been so well received on the festival circuit that Scott is currently helming the Hollywood re-make starring Vince Vaughn currently titled The Delivery Man.  Yet, if there was ever a foreign feature in no need of an English language re-make, then Starbuck is it.

Patrick Huard is likable loser David Wozniak, who back during his Uni days in the 80s engaged in a certain kind of manual labour for extra income.  Trading his splash for cash under the alias of “Starbuck”, David remains blissfully unaware of the seeds he has indirectly planted.  However, a lawsuit more than 20 years later now threatens to reveal his identity to his offspring- all 533 of them.  It’s a remarkable set-up, but the execution of the plot keeps Starbuck with a firm footing in reality, rendering the humour of the situation all the more effective.  Loaded with witty dialogue and gags, Starbuck offers a light-hearted take on a handful of serious issues, as David begins to secretively track down his some of his diversely mix of offspring.  The results are blissfully laugh-out-loud throughout, yet Scott never loses focus of the tenderness of the emotion woven into each scene.  It’s rare that any film, especially a comedy feels so perfectly balanced, but Starbuck ticks all the right boxes.

In addition to a razor sharp script, Huard is invaluable as the irresponsible man-child faced with a sudden and significant life altering realisation.  So good is he, that the idea of anyone (nonetheless Vaughn) attempting to replicate the sweet-natured charm Huard injects into this black sheep role can only result in a close encounter between face and palm.  His support is nearly as irreplaceable, as Antoine Bertrand’s pivotal portrayal of David’s best mate and lawyer provides a deeply amusing, cynical counterbalance to idealised views towards parenting.

There’s a certain level of contrivance present in Scott and Petit’s story, but this proves to be surprisingly easy to forgive thanks to the overwhelming strengths of the script.  Starbuck may have a heart of gold at its core, but the audiences’ faces are never rubbed in the fact.  David is a flawed, yet well-intentioned character hindered by uncertainty on multiple levels, and the stigma faced by a man in his position is readily and cleverly addressed.  Despite the sticky subject matter, Starbuck never sacrifices its heart or intelligence for the sake of a cheap laugh (unlike a certain reviewer, perhaps).  The only real issue with Starbuck stems from the $80K debt David owes.  Written in for a very specific purpose, the matter is awkwardly dealt with until the eventual resolution.  It can only be assumed that David managed to borrow from the most patient, lenient loan sharks in all of Canada.  If there’s anything that the re-make could improve upon, it would be this minor aspect.  Otherwise, it will have a hard time meeting the tremendous standard Starbuck has set.

At times, the backlash against Hollywood re-makes more closely resembles a reflex than a reasonable argument.  The warmth, humour and spot-on performances of Starbuck make a strong case for a film that gets it right the first time.  While The Delivery Man may not end up being the crass, masturbation joke-filled, gross-out comedy some fear, the best bet is to catch Starbuck sooner rather than later.  This wonderfully touching comedy needs no substitute.  9.5/10

Starbuck is in cinemas 23 November


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