Have you ever read a news report about some poor couple who suddenly find themselves the parents of sextuplets or octuplets or some similarly litter-sized brood, and thought how horrible that must be for them? Well, imagine then what it might be like to discover suddenly that you are the father of 533 children, and you’ll have some sense of the predicament that faces the man at the center of the French Canadian comedy Starbuck.
His name is David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), and he’s a shiftless loser who only manages to keep his job delivering meat for a butcher shop because his father owns the place. In his 40s, his wardrobe seems to consist mostly of sports-related T-shirts, and he pursues get-rich-quick schemes that leave him heavily in debt to some sketchy characters.
He learns that a sperm bank to which he donated for cash more than 600 times almost 25 years ago apparently used his specimens for all of its clients. Not only that, but some 142 of his progeny have filed a lawsuit asking that the identity of their biological father be revealed. This shocking news comes shortly after he’s also impregnated his girlfriend, his first child conceived the old-fashioned way, and has vowed to become a good father.
Frightened by what these hundreds of kids might want from him, he enlists his lawyer-friend (Antoine Bertrand) to argue to the court that his anonymity (his donations were made using the alias “Starbuck”) be protected. But, in the meanwhile, he begins to learn more about his children, almost all of whom are in their early 20s. When he discovers one of them is a well-known professional soccer player, he attends a match and beams with full paternal pride after his son scores a goal. The experience gives him a taste of the upside of being a dad, and he becomes addicted to tracking down each of the others without revealingly to them who he is.
It’s the best part of the film, as David helps an aspiring-actor son land the audition of a lifetime, saves the life of a heroin-addicted daughter, and visits a severely physically disabled son in a nursing home, among others. These scenes are alternately comic and movingly dramatic. The film does a wonderful job of exploiting its premise to suggest how David is getting a crash-course in fatherhood, both the highs and the lows. I could have watched many more of these moments, or even imagine how this idea might be turned into a TV series, about a man wandering from town to town getting involved in the lives of strangers (who just happen to be his kids), like a variation on Highway to Heaven or The Fugitive.
His new hobby gets disrupted somewhat when one of his sons discovers his identity and demands that he be allowed to stay with him for awhile, in exchange for keeping the secret. This eventually leads to David finding himself at a weekend picnic surrounded by all the kids who are party to the lawsuit, where he’s able to revel in their company even as they don’t realize who he is.
Starbuck becomes less interesting once it shifts from these interactions with the children to the resolution of its courtroom plot. I wish these legal maneuvers, and the subplot involving David’s debts, had been discarded entirely in favor of a straightforward story about his personal growth.
Still, there’s more than enough charm in the movie, and it’s easy to see why it has already been remade by Dreamworks with Vince Vaughn in the title role (called The Delivery Man, it’s slotted for a release this fall). I think Netflix or HBO should give serious consideration to turning it into a TV series too.