Father of the Brood, by Rita Cannon
Much like its “lovable loser” protagonist, Ken Scott’s new film Starbuck has a lot of flaws and bad habits. Sometimes it’s lazy; other times it tries too hard. It has a lot of good ideas, but seldom has the gumption to see them through to the end. But it also has heart, charm, and a good sense of humor. The more time you spend with it, the more you get to like it, until, in the end, it wins you over.
The French-Canadian comedy follows David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a forty-something guy who works as a delivery man for his father’s Quebec butcher shop, and is in a relationship of indeterminate seriousness with a policewoman named Valerie (Julie LeBreton). When Valerie announces she’s pregnant, she also announces she’s breaking up with David, saying he’s too lazy, immature and irresponsible to be a good father. Right away, one of the film’s bad habits – a compulsive need to up the dramatic ante, even if the action itself doesn’t seem credible or make sense – starts to show. What’s so bad about David, exactly? So far, the worst screw-up we’ve seen him make is forgetting to bring the uniforms to a company soccer game. He seems like a kind, good-hearted guy who cares about his family, makes a decent living, and is more than willing to be involved in raising his child. “Moderately bumbling” is probably the worst thing you could say about him, so the idea that Valerie would see raising a kid on her own as a better option than doing it with David feels like a stretch.
Within days of being dumped, David receives even more shocking news. Apparently, for a period of about two years in the late eighties, David donated sperm habitually . . . like, “every single day” habitually. A lawyer informs him that, as a result, he’s fathered 533 children, and 142 of them are currently involved with a lawsuit to force the fertility clinic to reveal the identity of “Starbuck,” the code name under which he donated. Now armed with a file full of info on these 142 kids (who are now in their early twenties), David starts tracking the kids down and checking in on them. He drops into their lives like a guardian angel, helps them out of some kind of jam or other, then swoops back out without revealing his identity.
This behavior could easily read as creepy – he’s essentially stalking and spying on these people, after all – and roughly half of these vignettes veer into the unforgivably saccharine. (Did you know that a father’s love can instantly cure a heroin addiction? The makers of Starbuck seem to believe that it can.) But it’s anchored by the fantastic performance of Patrick Huard, who invests David with such warmth, magnetism, and honest-to-God basic human kindness that you’re willing to reserve judgment on his bizarre hijinks, as well as a number of other creaky plot points, just so you can keep hanging out with him.
Starbuck is shot through with a ridiculous sense of optimism that is at once the best and worst thing about it. There are several times when it overplays its hand and becomes downright silly. In addition to the thing with the heroin, there’s an inane and poorly developed subplot involving a large sum of money which David owes to some criminals, followed by a eye-roll-inducing reveal about the incredibly wholesome way in which he incurred it. But there are also times when its sentimentality works, particularly in its portrayal of the makeshift community David’s offspring have formed in the run-up to their lawsuit. Rather unrealistically, all 142 of them get along great, largely because they seem like carbon copies of each other – they all sort of look like Urban Outfitters models, but with cheerier dispositions. David insinuates himself into the group by pretending to be an adoptive father attending on behalf of his institutionalized son, and soon he’s joining them at meetings and on weekend beach retreats. That no one suspects that this forty-something man who vaguely resembles them all might be Starbuck strains credulity. (And he does resemble all of them – I can’t imagine how many hours must have gone into casting such an enormous brood.) Even so, these scenes have some remarkable emotional heft, and everything that comes after them is buoyed by the good will they foster. Some of David’s legal and romantic woes sort themselves out in suspiciously pat ways, but the final scene is moving in its evocation of the joys and comforts that can be found in family, regardless of whether that family is one you were born into, one you’ve chosen, or in this case, a strange mix of both.