Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 45 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 3
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
This is the third film in a month that I went to dutifully and expected very little, having seen star Vince Vaughn in some very unmemorable comedies. What a delightful surprise to find that there were a few touching moments amidst quite a lot of schmaltz in this remake of a French-Canadian comedy called Starbuck. The Hollywood version, the setting of which is moved from Montreal Canada to Brooklyn, was made by the same director, Ken Scott, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Petit. As a character transformation tale it deserves a larger audience than it thus far has garnered. Maybe the modest response has been because some folk, like myself at first, were turned off by the concept of a sperm donator discovering that over 500 children have been sired from his seed. In the hands of some Hollywood filmmakers this would have occasioned lots of lame sex jokes and the main character’s penis bragging, but that is not the case here.
Vince Vaughn is David Wozniak, whose ambition has not gone beyond that of being the truck deliveryman for his family owned butcher’s shop, Wozniak and Sons. The film’s title takes on a second meaning when a lawyer from the sperm donation company shows up with papers declaring that the now bankrupt company used the sperm he sold during his frequent visits to the clinic a great many times—in all 533 children were born from his seed, and 143 of them have filed a joint suit seeking the name of the donor known only as “Starbucks.” This comes, of course, as quite a shock to our hero, who has just been rejected by his now pregnant girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders), a cop who tells him that he is, as she says, “too immature for me.”
He reveals his shocking secret only to his longtime best friend Brett (Chris Pratt), a would-be lawyer who still must clear one more hurdle in order to obtain his license. When he says that he might give his consent to have his name released, Brett strongly advises him not to do so. The clueless single-parent of four very young children, Brett is very funny in this scene. Holding the infant in one arm, he tries to get the other three little ones to go to bed, but instead, each one goes and lies down in the indoor sandbox. (This guy really needs one of those parenting guides, his kids well along the road to completely dominating his life.) Brett complains, “Kids are a black hole!” Needing legal advice, David asks, “Do I have to get a REAL lawyer?” His friend replies, “You can’t afford a REAL lawyer!” Which is true, David having spent the thousands of dollars earned from the clinic on a worthy project that we only discover near the end of the film.
Brett advises David not to open the large brown envelope that the clinic’s lawyer had left with him, but of course, like Pandora and her closed box, he does. However, the results are quite different, this curious act leading him to look in on the lives of “his” children, now in their mid to late twenties. The first is the surly would-be actor Josh (Jack Reynor) unable to get away from his coffee shop job in order to attend an open casting call, so David, without revealing his identity, subs for him. The clerk is fired when the owner shows up, but he returns with news that he got the part. There follows in quick succession encounters with more of his children as he stalks them—a drug-addicted young woman, an historical re-enactor, a street performing guitarist, a life guard at an indoor pool, even an African-American spa technician who does his nails. In between these encounters Brett continually tells him to quit, but now David says that for the first time in his life he feels that he is doing the right thing. He sees that his life and actions matter. Unwittingly he is fulfilling what the apostle Paul wrote so long ago, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
Of course, some of this is believable only in such a comedy, but some of the incidents are truly moving, such as David’s attending a gathering of the 133 members of the joint suit at a hotel meeting room where he receives a microphone and says that if nothing else results from their suit, they have discovered that they have brothers and sisters, that they are not alone in this world.
Even more moving are the couple of scenes in which he visits an institution where one of his offspring is a spastic young man unable to speak and confined to a wheelchair. Seeing him at a distance, David starts to leave, but the compassionate nurse urges him to go up and meet him. Even though there seems to be little response, David spends the rest of the day helping to care for Ryan ((Sebastian Rene, the only carry over from the original film). The resulting good feeling helps him learn that he is receiving more than he is giving. Much later, during an outing of the 133 by the seashore David wheels Ryan up a hill so that they can watch together a sunrise. No words are spoken, and none are needed—this one scene is worth the price of a ticket.
Although it would have been nice if lovely Cobie Smulders as the cop-girlfriend had been given more screen time, she and the cast as a whole are excellent. Especially noteworthy is Polish actor Andrzej Blumenfeld (making his first appearance in an American film) as the wise and warm-hearted father of David and his two brothers. The climax of the film at the hospital where David, who has at last outed himself to his biological sons and daughters, is with Emma and their newborn son might bring a tear or two to your eye. It closes with group hug larger than that of any film, even football ones. By overlooking some of the implausible parts, present in most Hollywood comedies, one can enjoy the film’s affirmation that we are all connected and that discovering our role as reaching out to others transforms even a slacker into a purpose-driven person.
A fuller version of this review with several discussion question will be included in the February issue Visual Parables, scheduled for posting during the last week of this month, Subscriptions are available at the Store.