The French-Canadian "Starbuck" is essentially a situation comedy, but what a situation.
Back in his youth, Montreal delivery man and general ne'er-do-well David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) made extra money via donations to his local fertility clinic. Now 40-something, David is informed by his lawyer (the very funny Antoine Bertrand) that those hundreds of donations have become hundreds of people. The laws of anonymity are being challenged. His kids want to meet him. He's $80,000 in debt to gangsters. And his girlfriend (Julie LeBreton) is pregnant. Sacre bleu!
Yes, indeed, it's fertile ground for silly humor and director Ken Scott and his co-writer Martin Petit take full advantage of most of the obvious jokes. But they also take matters further, into fractious emotional territory they might have avoided, if all they'd wanted to make was a silly comedy. David is a complicated character -- he's the black sheep of the family meat business. His girlfriend isn't sure she even wants him around anymore, much less playing father to their child. Leg-breakers are visiting his house. He wants to be a better person. So when he gets photos and profiles of his various offspring, he starts shadowing them, checking them out and helping them out of scrapes. It's all very tender and it elevates the film into something more than patrimony gags and man jokes.
Huard is thoroughly charming and convincing as a delinquent becoming a better person. Even if some scenes are formulaic, or feel like filler, the upshot of "Starbuck" is a genuinely feel-good experience. The title does not refer to the coffee, but rather a Holstein bull who became a hero of Canadian animal husbandry for siring thousands of calves in the 1980s (the same time our film hero was sowing his profitable oats). If one wanted to accuse director Scott of reducing men to livestock, he would have a pretty good case.
PLOT A footloose Quebecois discovers that the 648 sperm bank donations he made have matured into 533 adults, 142 of whom want to meet him.
RATING R (sexual content, language, drugs)
CAST Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton
BOTTOM LINE Potent comedy, with considerable heart. (In French and Spanish with English subtitles)