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David Wozniak is no garden-variety screwup. The protagonist of writer/director Ken Scott’s endearing but ingratiating Québécois comedy, Starbuck, is a walking cautionary tale on life and how not to live it. He’s terrible at his career, and only keeps his job as a perpetually tardy delivery driver because it’s the family business. His romantic life is no better: His longtime girlfriend is ready to leave him because she’s pretty sure he’s keeping things from her. She’s not wrong. He’s secretly trying to grow hydroponic weed in his apartment to raise $80,000 for his bookie. None of that is likely to go over well with her—given that she’s a cop.
But that might not be the worst of this guy’s offenses. As a broke student, he also donated copious amounts of sperm. After the sperm bank enthusiastically doled out his DNA, he’s the biological father to more than 500 children, 142 of whom have banded together in a class action. Their goal: to force the clinic to turn over the real name of “Starbuck,” his nom de donateur back when he was regularly providing top-grade genetic material.
This scenario could only be considered a screw-up in the weird logic of Scott’s movie. Starbuck hinges on the assumption that there’s something weird about a sperm donor having sired a lot of children. Granted, there are a lot in this case, and more than sperm banks are supposed to allow, but that’s not David’s fault. Yet in the movie’s fantasy world, the anonymous Starbuck is talked about like a pervert in the media, with outrage directed at him from around the world as the trial reaches its improbable fever pitch.
Treating the movie purely as a fantasy where this setup seems remotely plausible, it has its sweet moments. Patrick Huard plays David perfectly as a lovably scruffy, clueless sad sack whose generosity of spirit tends to outpace his common sense. When he’s given the file with the identities of the 142 plaintiffs, he looks to maintain his anonymity while going out and doing good deeds for his offspring, like an unshaven, schlubby version of Amélie.
But it’s hard to get past the feeling that none of these young men and women really deserve his charity. Their abuse of the legal system to force the clinic and the donor to cast aside a confidentiality agreement just makes them seem like entitled brats. One wonders how their own parents feel about their obsessive need to locate the donor—an issue the film utterly ignores, as if David created 142 orphans with his donations.
Scott’s take on the importance of family is an admirable one, to a point. The relationship David shares with his known family is messy, loving, and often a joy to watch. But the film also suggests that the right thing for David to do would be to come forward with his secret, to take some kind of responsibility for this massive family that he’s created. That makes for an uncomfortably regressive morality that puts the bonds of biology above all other factors—which seems more screwed up than David could be on his most careless day.