High-conception comedy

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A potent comedy of genetic chaos, Starbuck is pointedly contemporary and occasionally cloying, but guaranteed to draw attention for its premise and central character—a sperm donor who has ended up fathering hundreds and wants to remain anonymous.

As referenced in an introductory flashback to the late ’80s, when the rules were looser, ne’er-do-well Montreal meat delivery man David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) made a total of 648 sperm donations at $35 a pop (hence his evident lack of enthusiasm, for the job if not the cash). Twenty years later, his friend and unpaid lawyer Paul (the very funny Antoine Bertrand) informs David that his earlier deposits have matured into 533 adults, 142 of whom want to meet him.

The confidentiality laws that have kept David anonymous all these years are being challenged in court, which only adds to David’s woes: He’s $80,000 in debt to gangsters who are sending leg breakers to his house and, in keeping with the theme, his unhappy girlfriend Valerie (Julie LeBreton) is pregnant.

Starbuck, the title of which refers not to the coffee but rather to a famous Canadian Holstein bull that sired thousands of calves (around the same time David was sowing his anonymous oats), echoes the recent documentary Donor Unknown that told of a real-life serial donor whose dozens of children ended up connecting on the Internet and meeting their biological dad. While the timing of both films makes it unlikely that writer-helmer Ken Scott and co-scribe Martin Petit were directly inspired by Donor Unknown, they have seized on the concept in a timely way and handled it well.

Still, if Starbuck had pivoted entirely on the donor issue, it would likely have petered out early, but David’s ongoing personal calamities keep any one plotline from dominating. As the least productive member of the family meat business, David is held in low esteem by his brothers and father, who more or less expect him to foul up almost anything he’s supposed to do. The $80,000 debt is hanging over his head, and Valerie is not quite sure she wants David in her baby’s life; he’s something of a baby himself.

Thus, the class-action suit, which would force the sperm bank to release David’s identity, provides a very welcome route for him to become a better person. Having received profiles and photos of his various progeny, he knows who they are even if they don’t know him, and he starts acting as their guardian angel—saving one junkie daughter from an overdose, helping one drunken heir into a cab—in ways that form the best part of the film.

There are also extended musical montages and at least one sequence—in which a goth kid ineptly plays soccer with David’s family team—that just feels like filler. The upshot of the film, however, is a portrait of a man becoming a better one, an idea that resonates despite all the easy jokes and formulaic constructions.

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