Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Starbuck [2011]

MPAA (R)  Chicago SunTimes (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
Chicago SunTimes (S. Boone) review
AVClub (S. Tobias) review

Starbuck [2011] (directed and cowritten by Ken Scott along with Martin Petit) is a likable, arguably très courant French-Canadian (English subtitled) comedy about a Montreal residing serial screw-up David Wozniak (played by Patrick Huard).  Likable enough, a son within a very hard-working Polish immigrant family, he never really fit in.  As such, in his mid/late 40s, still single, living in a dive of a flat, perpetually owing money all over town, the only job that his walrus-mustached Lech Walesa looking father (played by Igor Ovadis) and brothers trust him with is simply driving their family's meat-packing business' delivery truck around town.  And he seems to even screw that job up.  (At one point, his father reminds him on the phone: "Son, you have the easiest job that we could possibly give you.  All you have to do is pick-up our meat and then deliver it.  And you can't seem to get even that right.")  Sigh ... one suspects that the little "hydroponically grown marijuana business" that David's been trying to set-up in his apartment to help pay off his debts is not probably going fly either ... ;-)

Into this life of serial, indeed going on decades long disappointment/failure comes further news.  Some twenty years back trying even then to augment his income, David was selling his sperm to a local fertility clinic under the pseudonym "Starbuck."  Well, his sperm turned out to be remarkably potent (successful ;-).  A court appointed official comes to the door of his apartment, and averting his eyes from having to acknowledge the presence of all those not particularly verdant marijuana plants that David has setup about his flat... :-), hands him a court document informing him that there's a class action suit being filed against him and the fertility clinic by some 130 of the over 500 offspring of his sperm demanding that the confidentiality agreement that allowed him to give all that sperm under a pseudonym be suspended and that the offspring be allowed to learn the identity of their father, David ;-).

What the heck to do?   Well David goes to his lawyer friend, mind you not a particularly successful lawyer friend ;-) (played by Antoine Bertrand) for advice and agrees to have his lawyer friend defend him, presumably "pro bono" because, well, where's David gonna find the money anyway ...? ;-).  For his part, David's friend takes the case because, quite frankly, "pro bono" though it may be, David has actually provided him the biggest break to make a name for himself in years and perhaps HE could finally make his own mother proud ;-).

Much ensues, and the film becomes quite touching as David, inevitably becomes first interested in all those offspring that he discovers that he has and then tries discreetly to try to help them as a good father would.

There's actually also a lovely conversation somewhere near the end of the film, as of course, it tends toward an inevitable reckoning, between David and his own father.  David's father lets him in on a secret: "Do you know why I've always loved you despite all of your screw-ups?  You've given me a chance to do for you what my own father never had a chance to do for me.  When I left Warsaw for Canada, my father gave me $10 and a blessing.  THAT'S ALL THAT HE COULD DO FOR ME and I knew that it positively crushed him to not be able to do more.  With all of your screw-ups, you've given me the opportunity to become the father that my father wished he could have been for me."  (This was honestly a surprisingly touching scene even if it certainly must have been difficult for David/"Starbuck" to also accept). 

Now there is an obviously "prophetic" side to this film that is NOT all smiles/laughs.  There are probably a whole bunch of "Starbucks" around the world with dozens to hundreds of offspring each, a fair fraction of which would have a legitimate yearning to know who their biological father was even if their biological father had been simply a donor of sperm.  Note here that in the film only about a quarter to a third of the children created with David's sperm wanted to learn his identity.  For the others it presumably wasn't all that important.  Still a quarter to a third is a quarter to a third and in this film that amounted to over 130 people.  Conceiving children using sperm from a sperm bank carries with it this problem for at least a fair fraction of children conceived in this manner.

But then the children do exist and plenty have reached adulthood.  What then to do?  Here this film offers with a certain French Canadian and perhaps even Polish gentleness (note that both of these places have been and at one, Poland, remains very Catholic) a lovely and gentle solution (IMHO borne in fair part out of that family oriented Catholic past) -- acceptance/blessing.  Would David/"Starbuck" be so "free" in selling his sperm as he was when he was in his 20s now that he's realized that he's become the biological father of over 500 children of which at least 130 wanted to have at least some kind of minimal relationship with him?  Probably not.  (And yes, by Catholic teaching, the whole situation is clearly a mess from the get-go.  Just consider how David/"Starbuck" was able to "make available" all that sperm...).  But here they are.  What else honestly can one do except "open one's arms _really wide_ ..." (And for its part, the Church baptizes everybody no matter how they were conceived as long as they or if they are minors their parents consent to it.  A person's mere existence in any stage of life -- from the moment of conception (fertilized human egg) to natural death -- is taken as proof that they were willed and therefore loved by God).   

Anyway, I found the movie very interesting and honestly very nice.  I would also say that while a Hollywood remake of this film is already in the works that this French Canadian original is excellent and Patrick Huard's performance as the David/Starbuck (as well as Igor Ovadis's performance as his dad) were positively inspired.  There is a gentleness to this film that will be challenging to replicate.

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