Ken Scott’s Starbuck: Where the Greatest Losers are the Greatest Winners

The comedy of the summer is Ken Scott’s Starbuck. Co-written by Scott and Martin Petit, this is a comedy with the edge of seriousness that makes comedies great. It’s showing in French in 89 cinemas across Quebec (sometimes with English subtitles), and has succeeded in topping sales of $1 million in its first week.

Popular actor, director, and comedian Patrick Huard plays David Wozniak, a feckless 42-year-old delivery guy with a pregnant girlfriend, Valérie (Julie Le Breton), who wants nothing more to do with him, a grow-up in his apartment, an $80,000 debt to unsavoury characters, and a nasty visit from thugs.

His next visitor is a bailiff who tells him he is the father of 533 children, of whom 142 are taking legal action to learn his identity. Hence the name Starbuck, which was the pseudonym David used at the fertility clinic where he was a sperm donor as a young man -- Starbuck having been the name of a sensationally prolific Quebec bull stud. The bailiff leaves him with an envelope full of biographical information about these offspring.

Original enough, even topical, but not, you might think, the most promising idea for a film. I had my doubts, and they lasted through the opening scenes. But then David stops by to chat about the legal case with his long-suffering friend, an inept lawyer (played to perfection by baby-faced Antoine Bertrand), who appears to be in sole charge of four unbiddable children. When one emerges sleepily in his pajamas to join the two men in the back yard, his father tells him to “Go back to bed.” The boy lies down in the sandbox. “Not in the sand. Not in the sand!” his father implores him, to no effect, as the other children drift outdoors.

“I want to be a father,” David announces improbably. This turns out to be the first sensible thing we ever hear him say, even if it doesn’t seem very sensible at first. His friend does everything in his power to convince David not only that he really would not want to be a father, but that he isn’t cut out for the job. From everything we know about David, we have to agree.

We would be wrong. For this is the moment when comedy becomes simultaneously funniest and most serious. We see how his engagingly inept friend, who is incapable of getting his children to pay attention to him, is also the most loving and beloved of fathers. David sees this, too.

This being a film in which the greatest losers are also the greatest winners, David finds ways of acting as guardian angel to several of his offspring without revealing he is their biological father. He makes amends with Valérie, introduces her to his Polish immigrant family. Only then the thugs take on his father. The closing scenes reveal how the debt gets paid, Valérie’s baby is born, and David finally admits he is Starbuck.

Funny? Yes, more and more as the story unfolds. Human? Absolutely. Heartwarming? That too. Redemption is heartwarming.

Hats off to Huard for his thoughtful portrayal of David, to Bertrand for making the most of a richly comic role, and to Scott. This is the second feature he has directed, the first being Les doigts croches in 2009, and he wrote the scripts for Le Rocket (2005) and La Grande séduction (2003), my all-time favourite Quebec film.

Shot in French in the village of Harrington Harbour on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, La Grande séduction is being remade in English as Seducing Dr Lewis in the Newfoundland & Labrador village of Champney's this fall, with Scott directing -- and in French and Italian, as well. We’ll be hearing a lot more about Ken Scott.

In the meantime, see Starbuck. (Those of you able to attend TIFF can see it there.) And then see La Grande séduction. You will enjoy Seducing Dr Lewis even more when it comes your way.

Linda Leith

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