Between 1988 and 1990, Quebec native David Wozniak made well over 600 donations to a local sperm bank, all under the pseudonym Starbuck, all after having signed confidentiality agreements. He saw it simply a way to make money, which is to say he never gave much thought to the idea that anyone would actually use his sperm. Just over twenty years later, David (Patrick Huard), is informed by a lawyer representing the sperm bank that, because of his donations, he’s the father of 533 children. Of those, 142 have banded together to change the laws regarding donor confidentiality, as they all want to know Starbuck’s true identity. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for David, who has a reputation for being an immature screw up; not only does he owe thousands to thugs he took loans from, his girlfriend, Valerie (Julie LeBreton), is also pregnant with his child and doesn’t believe him capable to being the father he needs to be.
That’s the basic plot of Starbuck, a droll yet sweet-natured crowd-pleaser – which is code for a film that works more on the heart than it does on the mind. I don’t think too many audiences will have problems seeing past its imperfections, certainly not with a premise this engaging and characters this likeable. Its themes of accepting responsibility, discovering one’s inner strength, and learning to give and receive love may not be original but are nevertheless highly appealing. I’ve narrowed the reasons for this down to two: (1) They restore our faith in humanity, as we’re given reason to believe that even deeply flawed individuals are capable of change; (2) they inspire us to look within ourselves and, if need be, reevaluate what we have come to accept as personal truth.
David, an underachieving delivery man for his father’s butcher shop, seeks the legal counsel of his friend, known only as Avocat, the French word for “lawyer” (Antoine Bertrand). He’s not a fully accredited lawyer, mind you, and he takes the case in large part to prove his worth to his unseen yet highly disapproving mother. And then, of course, there’s the fact that he’s the flustered single father of several young children, all of whom never seem to listen to a word he says. It becomes increasingly apparent that he’s more desperate go to court and win the case than David is. In fact, David is doing just about everything Avocat doesn’t want him to do, including meeting several of his 142 children without telling them who he really is. During these scenes, we see that David, in spite of his adolescent reputation, is capable of acts of kindness, both big and small.
He will, for instance, cover for a barista, a struggling young actor who’s frustrated because his job prevents him from going to auditions. He will also pose as a pizza delivery man and intervene on behalf of a young woman addicted to heroin, who overdoses in her bedroom. Admittedly, it’s highly unlikely that he would believe her capable of quitting on her own, allow her leave the hospital without getting her into rehab, and let her continue to work at her new job, which looks respectable enough. That’s simply not how drug addiction works. Be that as it may, we also see David spending time with a young man who languishes in an assisted living facility, confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. His condition is not specifically named, but judging by his motor impairments, I would guess it’s either cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
In a rather interesting twist of fate, David winds up in a hotel ballroom where, unbeknownst to him, all 142 of his children have gathered to discuss their next legal move. In another twist of fate, a goth kid named Antoine (David Michael) enters David’s life, for he has somehow found out that David is his father. No effort is made to explain how Antoine discovered Starbuck’s identity, which is one of the film’s more glaring mistakes. Regardless, I appreciated the fact that Antoine is not out to blackmail or humiliate David, nor does he plan on revealing David’s secret to the world; he simply wants to be acknowledged for existing. Meanwhile, Valerie becomes more neurotic as her due date approaches, as doubts about her own maternal instincts creep up beside her doubts about David. Thankfully, she’s allowed at least one sigh of relief when she meets David’s family and is told the story of how his parents’ dream of visiting Italy became a reality.
The story of the 142 children eventually becomes an international story. The one question on everyone’s mind is: Who is Starbuck? In Quebec alone, everyone and their uncle has an opinion about this mystery sperm donor, who’s generally believed to be a pervert. Naturally, this puts David in a very awkward position. If he remains in hiding, he can never fully embrace the young men and women he has come to love and respect, and who seem to love and respect him in return. If he reveals his secret, he faces the rejection of his immediate family, his friends, the general public, perhaps even his 142 children. And then there’s the matter of his outstanding debts; if he wins his case and retains his right to anonymity, the damages he would receive would adequately pay them off. But would that be the right thing to do? If there’s anything Starbuck does satisfyingly, it’s answering that very question.
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