‘Starbuck’: No blanks in his gun

March 20, 2013

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Funny, surprising and full of heart, the French-Canadian comedy “Starbuck” has nothing to do with coffee (that name, after all, came from a character in “Moby-Dick”) and everything to do with redefining notions of family.

Directed by Ken Scott from a script he wrote with Martin Petit, the film stars Patrick Huard as David Wozniak, a guy in his 40s who delivers meat for his father’s butcher company in Montreal – and does it badly. He walks around in throwback t-shirts for defunct American sports teams and is trying to grow hydroponic weed, in hopes of selling it to pay off an $80,000 debt he owes to a loan shark.

When his long-time but fed-up girlfriend reveals that she’s pregnant, she also says she wants nothing to do with his sorry self. Her baby will never know its father, she promises, because he’s too much of an irresponsible loser.

Then David gets a visit from an attorney: Twenty years earlier, it seems, David made more than 600 deposits at a local sperm bank as a money-making scheme. His code name for his account: Starbuck.

But the sperm bank mistakenly used only his sperm over the course of that period – meaning that he is the biological father of more than 500 children. And now more than 140 of them have filed requests seeking his identity.

He, of course, has the right to refuse. But, the lawyer explains, that group of his offspring are banding together for a class-action suit to force the sperm bank to reveal his name. David says no – and his pal, an attorney, points out that he can now counter-sue the sperm bank and, perhaps, collect enough money to pay off his debt to the loan shark.

The attorney gives him a sheaf of papers, each containing the specifics on one of those products of his emissions. Curious, he pulls one out – and discovers that it belongs to one of the country’s star soccer players. Suddenly bursting with parental pride, he looks at the rest of the resumes of his “children” and begins to track a few of them down, casually striking up friendships without telling them who he is.

One is a lifeguard, whose pool he starts swimming at; another is a busker in the Montreal subway, and David becomes one of his regulars. Yet another is a would-be actor, who David helps by filling in at the kid’s job while he goes for an audition.

But it’s not all parental pride from a distance: One of them turns out to be institutionalized with cerebral palsy, while another is a young woman who is a heroin addict. David gets involved with both, feeling that side of the parental equation as well.

Eventually, David follows one into a meeting that turns out to be the group filing the class-action suit against “Starbuck.” And, before long, identifying himself as the “adoptive” father of the handicapped boy, he becomes part of the group without revealing his true identity. Even as he tries to win his way back into his pregnant girlfriend’s heart, he has to deal with a national media explosion of jokes and headlines about the Starbuck lawsuit.

There are more layers to this plot than the simple farcical set-up would imply and more strands to the plot. But, in the end, it’s about Huard’s performance as David, a slacker who discovers new definitions of manhood and a new dimension to his previous ideas of being a parent. Even as he learns to man up, he finds personal depths he didn’t realize he possessed. Huard, with his sad eyes and hangdog expression, is lovable and sympathetic, even as he keeps tripping himself up.

“Starbuck” is meatier than you’d expect, with lots of unexpected humor, thanks to the straight talk in which these characters deal. There’s no sugar-coating what they say to each other – and surprising laughs as a result.

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