The More the Merrier

Starbuck ★★★★
(Canada, 103 min.)
Dir. Ken Scott, Writ. Ken Scott, Martin Petit.
Starring: Patrick Huard, Antoine Bertrand, Julie LeBreton.
Meet David Wozniak. A middle-aged loser with $80 000 of debts owed to some dubious Montreal drug dealers, a hair-brained scheme to recoup said debt via a hydroponic lab, and a crappy job as a delivery man in his family’s butchery business. On the upside, though, David is a swinging single who enjoys his freedom. That is until his casual girlfriend, Valerie, tells him that she is pregnant, but she thinks David should have no part in raising a child unless he changes his act. Valerie’s news brings stirs a revelation within David and he decides that he would like a child. Then a mystery stranger arrives at David’s home with news that he is the biological father of 533 children … be careful what you wish for!

So goes the premise for Starbuck, the crowd-pleasing Canadian comedy that was the surprise runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Sure, the initial set-up of the film is preposterously convoluted, yet Starbuck is irresistibly charming and instantly appealing. Especially through Patrick Huard’s charismatic and energetic performance as the fertile father, Starbuck is a winner.

David learns from the stranger that he fathered the children back in the eighties. Before he was a butcher, David earned a living under the alias “Starbuck” by beating his meat and donating sperm at $35 a pop. By some error, the fertility doctor administered David’s sperm to all his clients during a brief period. This information is one of the many tidbits of Starbuck that could exist only in movie land, yet embracing the many contrivances of the film is half the fun.
David seeks the advice of his best friend (Antoine Bertrand), who drolly tells him to forget the 142 children petitioning to meet their father. As the scene between David and his oddly unnamed friend humorously plays out, raising four kids appears to be punishment enough. Nevertheless, David seeks out his children, meeting them in secret and giving them unsuspecting fatherly advice.
The more David interacts with his children, the more he learns that the joys of fatherhood are among the things lacking in his own life. Soon, though, the children’s class action lawsuit to reveal the identity of their father escalates. Consequently, the mystery of “Who is Starbuck?” gains international attention, with many people (including Valerie) decrying the mysterious donor as a lewd pervert. Despite David’s growing affection for his children, his concerns return to his past, his outstanding debts, and his relationships with Valerie and his family. These fears, coupled with a reluctance to relinquish his cherished bachelorhood, ultimately deter David from publicly acknowledging himself as the baby daddy to five-hundred odd Canadians.  
During the course of David’s paternal coming of age, Starbuck offers a breezy blend of bawdy humour and feel good family fun. The script by Ken Scott and Martin Petit successfully caters to a broad audience through its melee of wank-jokes and physical/situational humour, but Starbuck is consistently funny without dumbing itself down or pandering to the masses. Starbuck is simply a well-done, go for broke comedy. Moreover, it is an impressive directorial effort for Scott, making a confident transition to orchestrating a production after penning such quaint and comical films like 2003’s Seducing Dr. Lewis. (His first feature Les doigts croches isn’t all that available.)

The film also proves a rare case for a Canadian comedy. The wide range of Starbuck’s aim means that a wide audience could easily enjoy it. Starbuck also retains a strong sense of place and incorporates the streets of Montreal into its shenanigans, but it does so without making the Canadiana self-conscious or annoying, or without digressing into Canuck kitsch. A genuinely fun escape and a great showcase for Huard, Starbuck is not only one of the more enjoyable Canadian films this year, but one of the better comedies of 2011, period.  

Starbuck plays at The ByTowne in Ottawa through November 10.
Update: Starbuck has its Canada's Top Ten screening on March 20th.