"Starbuck" is a big, fat French-Canadian hug of a movie, a sperm-donations-gone-wrong farce that manages the occasional belly laugh but also offers moving takes on parenthood, family and what it means to grow up.
David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) makes one wonder what the French word for "galoot" is. He's the black sheep in his Montreal family, a 30-something slacker who can't do the easiest job in the family's butcher shop right — driving the delivery truck. He's forever taking the truck for personal errands, forgetting to do this or that, and then lying the moment he's found out.
He's in hock to loan sharks. His idea for making extra cash is setting up a pot-growing operation in his apartment. And when his girlfriend (Julie Le Breton) tells him that she's pregnant, that's her brushoff line. She doesn't want their baby's father to be a lout "who doesn't have a life."
David promises to mend his ways. But that promise is made before he's served with legal papers. There was a screw-up at the sperm bank he used to frequent for extra cash. Somehow, 533 babies were born with his genes, and now, years later, they're suing to find out who their "father" is, a donor who went by the name "Starbuck."
David consults his best friend, a harried father and sometime lawyer played to hilarious effect by Antoine Bertrand (a French version of Oliver Platt), who wants to take on this landmark privacy case.
David doesn't tell his girlfriend or his family. And when he's given the profiles of the people suing to find his identity, he doesn't tell his offspring, either. But he starts checking them out. One's a rising soccer star. Great! The rest?
There's a junkie, a bartender who wants to be an actor, a lifeguard, a bag boy at a supermarket, an impoverished busker singing in subway stations. David reads their profiles, tracks them down and stumbles into their world under false pretenses. He's the pizza deliveryman who drags Julie (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse) to the hospital after an overdose, the bar customer who steps behind the counter and lends his delivery truck to Etienne (Patrick Martin) so that the lad can go for an audition.
David thinks he can become "their guardian angel" and nobly wants "the satisfaction of making a difference in someone's life." The genius of actor-turned-director Ken Scott's film is the ways David manages just that, mixed in with David's clumsy efforts to hide his identity.
"Yo no soy David," he bellows — in Spanish, to throw off those tracking him down.
It's a movie conscious of statistical realities: Somebody in this group is going to have birth defects, some will be unhappy, some gay, some talented and some — just like David — struggling to handle life's simplest demands. Scott scans past the progeny with lovely montages of tattoos and the like. He manages a few perfectly poignant moments in between the chuckles.
And the sentiment — that kids "conceived in a little cup" want what those "conceived in love" are born with — is just lovely.
It's a smidge too cute and a bit too long, but Huard and Scott make this comical journey (in French and "Franglish" with English subtitles) a trip from indifference to kindness, incompetence to responsibility — a most rewarding reinvention of what "family" can mean.
'Starbuck' -- 3 stars
MPAA rating: R (for sexual content, language and some drug material)
Running time: 1:49