"Shakespeare is – let us put it this way – the least English of English writers. The typical quality of the English is understatement, saying a little less than what you see. In contrast, Shakespeare tended toward the hyperbolic metaphor, and it would come to us as no surprise to learn that Shakespeare had been Italian, or Jewish, for instance." -- Jorge Luis Borges 1979
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
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.