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‘Starbuck,’ a box-office hit from Canada, full of charm and humanity

'Starbuck' Day 06 Photo: Jan Thijs
Caramel Film

"Starbuck" Day 06 Photo: Jan Thijs Caramel Film

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David Patrick Huard

Valerie Julie LeBreton

Avocat Antoine Bertrand

Antoine David Michael

Etienne Patrick Martin

Entertainment One presents a film directed by Ken Scott. Written by Scott and Martin Petit. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 108 minutes. Rated R (for sexual content, language and some drug material). Opening Friday at Landmark Century.

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Updated: May 1, 2013 1:45PM

‘Starbuck,” about a once-prolific sperm donor who discovers he has fathered 533 children, 142 of whom now want to meet him, had the potential to be a very bad film. Instead under the direction of Ken Scott, it’s a funny and warm story filled with simple, heartfelt moments.

The affable Patrick Huard is David Wozniak, a man in his 40s who continues to live the life of an irresponsible adolescent. He coasts through his job as a deliveryman at his father’s Montreal butcher company. On the side, he’s dealing with an $80,000 debt that some mean-looking bruisers want paid in full. David, it seems, is simply bad at everything, including a not well-thought out attempt to grow hydroponic weed to pay off the massive debt.

Although he is a lovable guy, David is in no way capable, or interested, in a family life. But “Starbuck,” a French-Canadian production, is all about transformation. His outlook on life begins to change when he’s handed an envelope with profiles of the 142 young men and women who have filed a class-action lawsuit to determine the identity of their biological father, known only by the pseudonym “Starbuck.” Wanting nothing to do with his progeny, he at first ignores the information but curiosity eventually gets the better of him.

At the same time, his uneven relationship with his policewoman girlfriend Valerie (a no-nonsense Julie LeBreton) becomes even more complicated when she announces she’s pregnant. She tells him bluntly that the baby will never know its father because he is such a loser. Stunned by her dismissal, he turns to his “other children,” and without acknowledging that he is their father, becomes a sort of guardian angel, helping them in small ways to change their lives.

“Starbuck” goes a long way in redefining what makes a family. While David has long taken for granted his relationship with his immediate family, it is the blooming relationships with his many biological children and the prospect of a child with Valerie that awakens him to the joys of family ties. One of the funniest scenes has to do with attempts by his lawyer friend Avocat (the excellent Antoine Bertrand) to dissuade him of these joys, only to convince him of them even more.

Despite some moments that push the boundaries of belief (would his many children not easily figure out who this sudden mystery man is?), Scott keeps the story from becoming cloying and sentimental. He is aided by smart, low-key work from his cast, especially Huard, who easily embodies the persona of an adult slacker, instilling him with a warm charm. You want him to succeed, to figure things out and come to terms with his future, whether it’s his relationship with his own father, his fed-up girlfriend or the instant family suddenly thrust upon him.

DreamWorks has bought the rights to an English-language remake (now titled “The Delivery Man”), also directed by Scott and featuring a cast including Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders and Chris Pratt. It will be interesting to see if Scott is able to make the transfer to the Hollywood A-list without losing the charm and humanity of the original “Starbuck.”

Mary Houlihan is a locally based free-lance writer.

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