STARBUCK is a sweet little fable about procreating and growing up. In that order. Already in the process of being re-made American-style, this charmer from Canada deserves to find its audience before being overpowered by the Hollywood hype and the heinous habit that place has of taking something wonderful and ruining it with formulaic homogenization.
The hero is David (Patrick Huard), a good-hearted soul who is hopeless at everything except having people genuinely like him. Yet he manages to be upbeat even though his life is a shambles. Employed by the family meat business as the delivery guy, he finds all sorts of ways to foul up even the simplest of rounds. His finances are such that some very bad people to whom he owes money drop by unannounced to nearly drown him in his own bathtub. As for his love life, girlfriend, Valerie (Julie LeBreton) announces that she is pregnant and not interested in having him involved in any way shape or form in raising the baby.
This is when David has his first epiphany. Though he has never pondered the possibility before, and despite warnings from friends and family to never, every procreate, David suddenly becomes enchanted by the idea of being a father. The second epiphany follows in the form of his past as a habitual and vigorous sperm donor two decades previous coming back to haunt him. In addition to the baby on the way, David has fathered over 500 children (apparently his sperm was spectacular), and over 100 of those kids are taking him to court in order to discover his true identity. David is less enchanted by this sort of fatherhood, and yet, feels the tug of curiosity, and then something more instinctive.
The comedy is gentle, but very smart, as David sorts through the files of the children he’s helped create, and anonymously begins to drop in on them. As with the paradigm of parenting in general, it begins with rapture and then settles into heartbreaks, large and small, as well as disappointments, confusion, rebellion, and well-meaning plans going wildly awry. Despite the advice of his best friend and middling lawyer (baby-faced Antoine Betrand), he wants to be a sort of guardian angel, swooping in to help by filling in as a waiter as one son goes to audition for the role of a lifetime, or helping heal a daughter body and soul with a trip to the emergency room and a dose of trust. Huard, with a face as disheveled as his character’s life and sartorial choices, has the rubbery mien of a clown, but not of a buffoon. He makes David a careless man, but not a callous one. Rather, his is a heart too eager to do the right thing, even if he hasn’t quite worked out the right way to do that right thing.
Good intentions and unintended consequences abound with the result that David finally grows up in a film where the writing is brimming with quiet moments of great warmth, even when the action is at its most absurd, and always with a bracing, bittersweet tinge. When he finally realizes just what he means to others, and to himself, there won‘t be a dry eye in the house, or a funny-bone untickled. The pace is leisurely, the coincidences just a little too pat, but the momentum Huard brings to this befuddled human being has too much heart to let that matter.
STARBUCK, the pseudonym under which David made all those donations, nails the parenting instinct, and its uses in getting past the rough spots with both dignity and humor intact. As toddlers make a hash of one character’s quiet evening with David, the exasperation never quite overwhelms the tenderness beneath the frayed nerves and astonished consternation. This is the sly and knowing quality at work here, and a paean to the irresistible tug of parenthood on even those who claim the least interest in making a genetic stake in the future, as well as the surprising strength that even pain or disappointment can’t wither.