The money moment in the French Canadian dramatic comedy “Starbuck” is set in a hotel conference room. More than 140 young people, plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at revealing to them the identity of the sperm donor who is the father of them all, have gathered for a pep talk and lawsuit update.
And unbeknownst to them, sitting in the crowd is the befuddled 42-year-old slacker/butcher-shop deliveryman, David Wozniak, the anonymous donor who would prefer to remain anonymous.
“I wanted to show how overwhelmed David was, and show that overwhelmed feeling shifting into pride,” says actor Patrick Huard. “He’s proud of seeing all those kids together, working toward something. That moment David changes from a man in shock to a man overcome with pride and emotion. It must be stunning to live through something like that. It’s one thing to know that you’re the father of all these kids. But to see them all together?”
That’s the moment viewers either go along with “Starbuck” — which takes its title (and David’s code name at the sperm bank) from a famous Canadian breeding bull — and embrace the film’s “bleeding heart humanity” (Wall Street Journal), or they go against it and dismiss its “twee preposterousness” (New York Daily News).
And co-writer-director Ken Scott knows it.
“We wanted to stretch the reality as far as we could in writing it,” Scott says. “We gave David 150 or so kids. The number was great for comedy, but are we stretching reality too much? And then, weeks later, the news came out that a guy had had 250 kids this way. Then, a guy in the U.K. turns out to have had 500.”
So preposterous? Not so much.
“Starbuck” became a Canadian sensation and has been a hit wherever it has traveled. That’s why Hollywood has already remade the film. “Starbuck,” in French with subtitles, is playing for audiences who don’t mind subtitles this spring. “The Delivery Man,” with Vince Vaughn in the role Huard originated, is scheduled to come out in the fall, again with Scott writing and directing.
“My co-writer and I felt this would be a great way to explore fatherhood,” Scott says. “There was this case, these scandals, with sperm banks, in New York and elsewhere. This would be a good situation to build a dramatic comedy around. In building this character, we wanted a likable guy, but an irresponsible guy. Guys like this, they hit 40-42 and are still adolescents.”
Huard found much to love in a character who grows up in a hurry, thanks to fatherhood times 533. David anonymously tries to meet various kids. He takes on the role of “guardian angel” in their lives. And then he realizes they need more than that. Huard sees David not just as an arrested-development case study but also as representative of men who need to rediscover their place in parenting.
“There are qualities in people that are undervalued, I think,” Huard says. “Some of us have the gift of being able to love a lot of people. David has a lot of heart. Even if he doesn’t say or do the right thing, you sense that his heart is working its way toward the right place.
“Men see problems as in need of solutions. But a lot of guys realize that the main thing a dad should be is being there — being present while you’re looking for a solution. That’s what David is going through, this understanding that he needs to care, to be there.”
That, Scott says, is the movie’s message, “a universal one, I hope.”
(108 minutes, in area theaters) is rated R for obscenity, nudity, illegal drugs and sexual content. In French with English subtitles.