A film like Starbuck fails or succeeds on the strength of its lead actor, and writer/director Ken Scott struck gold with Huard.
David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is a bit of a screw-up—just ask his family. He’s a terrible employee (a delivery driver for his father’s butcher shop); he owes $80,000 to some very shady characters who have no qualms about holding his head under water for minutes at a time; and he just found out his (ex-) girlfriend, Valerie (Julie LeBreton), is pregnant with his child. Oh, he’s also fathered 533 children as a result of his very prolific sperm donation schedule 20 years ago.
We meet David just as all of these myriad problems seem to coalesce into possibly the worst week anyone has ever had. Through some glitch in the sperm bank’s system, David’s sperm was the sole donation used for nearly two years, the result being the army-sized brood. Worse, 142 of the children have petitioned to have his name revealed through a class-action lawsuit. He completed every form with the pseudonym “Starbuck” so this is the only way they know him, and David isn’t keen on making his identity public. His best friend/lawyer Avocat (Antoine Bertrand) tells David to keep his distance from his children—his own home life a shining example of why—but David is too curious not to investigate a little. Soon, he is acting as a guardian angel to many of his children with whom his bond steadily grows.
Starbuck has already been described as a “crowd-pleaser” in its marketing materials, and while I hate that phrase, I have to agree with its implication. The film isn’t a heavy drama or a hollow comedy. Starbuck manages to combine genuine wit, an outlandish plot, and touching themes about responsibility and the importance of family. David is a physical and mental drain on his family and his girlfriend. It’s not that he’s selfish—in fact, we find out late in the film how unselfish he truly is: He just doesn’t get it. When he tells his brother how much money he owes, his brother asks incredulously, “$80,000?”, to which David replies, “When you say it with a face like that, it sounds like a lot.” He never asks anyone for the money; he just hopes it works out.
A film like Starbuck fails or succeeds on the strength of its lead actor, and writer/director Ken Scott struck gold with Huard. Few other actors could play David as an unrepentant loser whom we don’t hate and are still able to root for. Huard is absolutely terrific as David, perfectly handling the comedy early in the film while seamlessly transitioning to more serious scenes later on. I was immediately reminded of Jean Dujardin in The Artist when I saw Huard’s wonderful balancing act. Scott, who co-wrote Starbuck with Martin Petit, is adapting his own film for American audiences and chose Vince Vaughn to play the David character. Let’s hope Vaughn is able to hit the emotional notes required to follow in Huard’s footsteps.
Huard is joined by an amazing supporting cast, especially Bertrand, who wouldn’t wish his own misery on his worst enemy. Avocat is more of a “lawyer” than a lawyer, but he agrees to help his friend with his case. Every interaction between Huard and Bertrand is comic gold because of their naturalistic chemistry and incredible comedic timing. LeBreton brings a perfect dose of sanity to a movie that would otherwise derail itself with ridiculousness. Her earnest delivery and forthrightness is exactly the kick in the pants David would need.
The film’s most moving moments, though, are the half dozen or so of David’s children we really get to know. They are not perfect (except for the famous soccer player) and many are facing problems just as bad as David’s. Seeing himself reflected in his children, David is begins to mature and take responsibility for what very well could be his saving grace in life. Starbuck truly understands what it means to be family—even when you can’t stand the person to whom you are related. | Matthew Newlin