A hit in its native Canada, the French-language comedy “Starbuck” is already set for a Hollywood remake featuring Vince Vaughn, and it’s easy to see why in its opening minutes. The shlubby, scruffy but good-hearted David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) seems more a Paul Rudd than a Vince Vaughn, to be honest, but his best friend and part-time lawyer Avocat (Antoine Bertrand) is definitely the Seth Rogan/Jonah Hill role.
The setup too, is very Judd Apatow: Back when David was a 20-something slacker, he donated sperm at $35 a pop over 500 times. Through some screw-up that only exists in films, the sperm bank used every single donation, and now there’s over 500 young adults wanting to meet the man who only used the nickname “Starbuck” as identification.
Making David a 40-something manchild with commitment issues puts “Starbuck” into farce territory. He’ll learn responsibility, learn to treat his long-suffering (and pregnant) girlfriend (Julie LeBreton) with respect, make his brothers and father proud, and do something about all 500 kids that he’s fathered, including the one that’s on the way.
But instead of farce, we get a gentle comedy with one or two funny moments in between maudlin and sentimental scenes. Clutching an envelope filled with information about his children, he voyeuristically trails one at a time, stepping in occasionally without revealing his identity and becoming a sort of guardian angel, helping one aspiring actor get to an audition (he gets the part!), and saving a daughter from a heroin overdose at the right moment (she refuses treatment and recovers immediately!). Several moments hint at a funnier, darker film: David obsessively following one son who works at a historical park, applauding his rote recitation of facts to tourists, David taking the high dive at a swimming pool so he can wave at his lifeguard son. Who is this creepy guy, they all seem to be thinking.
He befriends one son, a sullen goth with floppy hair and a lip ring, who has figured out what David has tried to hide. The goth tries to bond with David by joining his father’s amateur soccer team, but isn’t very good. This subplot peters out once loan sharks roust David’s dad for $80,000 and David decides to go to court against the bank to sue for damages, with Avocat representing his friend.
There’s a lot of montages in this film, a lot of pleasant uplifting music, a lot of hangdog looks from Mr. Huard, and very little comedic tension. The hundreds of young adults become this sort of Up With People group, turning up en masse for major plot points. You kind of expect them to raise a KONY 2012 banner at some point. Don’t these young’uns have jobs? Or families?
In the end you get what American audiences already pay for too much: the idea that marriage and a child automatically nullify character traits that have been ingrained for forty years. If only that was so.
Starring: Patrick Huard, Antoine Bertrand, Julie LeBreton
Length: 100 mins.
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug material
Playing at: Paseo Nuevo