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March 29, 2013

People sometimes wonder, what’s so great about foreign films? Well, when you consider the example of Starbuck you learn that it’s more about the way mainstream American movies are chewed over and broken down to the least common denominator. Written and directed in Québec by Ken Scott, it’s a raucous and ribald comedy that still manages to be soft and sweet when it needs to be. Given its subject matter, I can only imagine what sort of bland, tasteless product we’ll end up with if the likes of Vince Vaughn get hold of it.

To wit: “Starbuck” is the nom du verge of one David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), under which he made near-daily donations to a sperm bank from 1988 to 1990. And those donations have produced, by the time of our story, 533 children, 142 of whom want to know their biological father’s identity, and have initiated a class-action suit to assert their rights to know over Starbuck’s right to anonymity.

David is a true schlemiel, and turning twelve grand a year doing what he’d be doing anyway is among the least harebrained of his schemes. Towards the crazier end is an attempt to start a hydroponic pot farm in his apartment and running up some very large debts to some very bad guys while trying to maintain a relationship with his police officer girlfriend (Julie LeBreton), who just happens to turn up pregnant.

But one new kid is the least of David’s worries when he learns of the lawsuit. He enlists the aid of his lawyer friend (Antoine Bertrand) to represent his interests, but he can’t stop himself from peeking into the envelope of his kids’ profiles. The first one turns out to be a famous soccer star; another he catches right in the middle of a heroin overdose. Oh well, they can’t all be winners.

David obviously feels affection towards these kids, so it’s natural to wonder why he doesn’t just admit his role. Scott brings up his obstacles deftly, introducing each one before the previous one quite fades. The most frustrating one, though, is the social opprobrium leveled against a man who would make that many donations. The film defuses this, but never really examines it: why does this make Starbuck a “pervert” anyway? It’s unfair to claim he “fathered” these children; he made donations, and the bank and prospective mothers chose his samples without his knowledge. Would his actions have been more acceptable if none of the donations had been used? And what does this say about our attitudes towards these hundreds of children, that we regard their origins as being somehow shameful?

But the most interesting questions that Starbuck raises is one that isn’t made at all explicit, but which infuses the whole of the film: what would you do if you found out that the stranger in front of you was secretly your child, or your sibling, or your parent? How would you treat the busker in the subway tunnel? the attractive woman on the street? the aspiring actor stuck in a dead-end job? the junkie? the handicapped person stuck in a wheelchair, unable to meaningfully interact with the outside world? Absolutely nothing changes, and yet nothing stays the same.

Scott takes the makings of a broad, prurient farce and turns them into something wonderful. And Huard is crucial in his role as an inept but well-meaning schmo who awakens to all the wonder and joy his highly unusual family can bring.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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