David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is a deadbeat. A delivery driver in the family butchers, he only has two jobs – pick up meat and deliver it. He is inept at both. And his girlfriend has just told him she is pregnant. Can a man like this be a father? Well it turns out, biologically, he definitely can. 142 children, the result of donations made to a fertility clinic two decades before, want to find out who he is and have filed a class action law-suit.
In Hollywood’s hands, Starbuck could have ended up as a Farrelly Brothers gross-out comedy, full of cheap laughs and little substance. Instead, this is a product of French-Canadian production company Caramel Films and director Ken Scott. The result is a witty, charming and clever exploration of what makes a good father.
Huard is fantastic as the eponymous sperm donor – Starbuck is the name he wrote on his donation forms to preserve his anonymity. He delivers a tour-de-force in comic acting – able to make the audience laugh through the simple repeated raise of an eyebrow. But he’s also able to give the part the emotional depth it needs – the day spent with one of the children, who has severe learning difficulties, was realistically and perfectly handled; the result was neither patronising nor a target for cheap laughs. Antoine Bertrand provides wonderful support as his friend and lawyer, desperate to win the case of his career; and Julie LeBreton delivers as Valerie, his long suffering girlfriend.
The tone is just right throughout this film – not afraid of an emotional moment, but never at risk of falling into the schmaltz trap that bigger budget films would have found irresistible. And most importantly, this film is laugh-out-loud funny – watch out for a fantastic sketch at football training that will feel wonderfully familiar to many.
This isn’t a perfect film – there are plot holes you could poke a rather large sperm donation cup through. But they don’t really matter. Starbuck offers a wonderful examination of fatherhood and responsibility, and deserves to be seen by a wide audience. There is talk of Scott working on an English language version of the film, but it’s hard to see how it would improve on the original. Don’t let the subtitles put you off, hunt out this film – it will steal your heart.
Starbuck is released in cinemas 23 November.