Building your film upon a high-concept storyline that stretches credibility to breaking point is a risky strategy that results in failure in most cases. Surprisingly, Ken Scott's comedy Starbuck manages to ride out its unlikely narrative all the way to a satisfying finale, thanks to a screenplay full of neat surprises and a pair of lead performances that bring a grounded charm to this fantastical tale. Patrick Huard is David Wozniak, a 42 year-old slacker and habitual fuckup who spends much of his time dodging local heavies over an unpaid debt and swerving commitment questions from his girlfriend. The event that shakes up David's life is a blast from the past. During the 1980s, he made money be donating sperm under the pseudonym "Starbuck" and it turns out that he is now the unwitting father of 533 children, 140 of whom now want to know who he is.
This revelation forces David into hiding, and he hires his friend Avocat (Antoine Bertrand) to plead his case for anonymity in the courts, but curiosity draws him back to the bundle of profiles left with him by the lawyer hired by his offspring. That curiosity is stoked further when he discovers one of his sons is the star player on his local football team, and soon David is tracking down the rest of his offspring, stalking them and attempting to inconspicuously intervene in their lives like a shabby guardian angel. This aspect of Ken Scott and Martin Petit's screenplay is rather contrived and episodic, and the picture is littered with subplots and loose ends that don't quite gel, but Starbuck gets away with it, largely because it is consistently very funny.
The motor of the movie is a tremendous lead performance from Huard, whose innate amiability and sincerity encourages to stick with the character as he travels across his uneven arc. The scenes in which David bonds with his own kin – unbeknownst to them – are finely judged, with sentimentality just about held at bay. His meeting with his mentally handicapped son could have been too mawkish to bear, but Huard makes us believe in his characters conflicted emotions and Scott skilfully dictates the tone of these tricky scenes. The other standout performance in the film comes from Bertrand, as the small-time lawyer tackling the biggest case of his life in defence of his best friend. This exuberant and endearing actor is responsible for some of the film's biggest laughs; from his bewildered reactions to David's predicament to his heartfelt but clumsy courtroom performance towards the film's climax.
Starbuck finally lets sentimentality win during its saccharine closing moments, but the fact that Scott has kept the movie above water for so long is testament to his inventive storytelling and confident direction of actors. It's one of the funniest and most satisfying comedies released this year and it deserves to find an audience, but will it have the opportunity to be a breakout hit? An English-language US remake of Starbuck is already in production with Scott, strangely, taking the directorial reins on this second version of his story. Will that picture share this Canadian production's understated charm? Will Vince Vaughn be capable of following Huard's terrific lead turn? Perhaps the remake will prove to be a worthwhile endeavour, but right now this Starbuck is the one to see, while you have the chance.