Starbuck: Following the Formula to Perfection

Film review is an endeavor that comes with a certain amount of peer pressure, especially in the age of aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. There's an imperative to be a part of the crowd. We celebrate films with 99% scores and ridicule the "Top Critics" that couldn't see the genius. The same goes for films on the other end of the spectrum. No one wants to be the one reviewer to give Alone in the Dark a positive review (sorry, Michelle Alexandria). But here's the thing: once you start reviewing films, everyone has one of those. Hell, Roger Ebert gave Gigli 2 ½ stars.

I bring this up because Ken Scott's Starbuck (not to be confused with Ken Scott's Delivery Man, which I'm convinced is a crime against humanity) has been greeted with decent, though hardly outstanding - 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, 49 on Metacritic – and I'm here to tell you that those people, whose very livelihoods are dependent on having a strong grasp on what constitutes a "good" film, are wrong. Starbuck is one of the most touching and outstanding films I've ever seen.

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All art, very much including film, has a bit of an elitism problem. Complexity and seriousness are far too often considered to be legitimate replacements for quality. High-concept films and comedies are viewed through a certain lens that puts them in a critical hole before the opening credits hit the screen. Starbuck is both: the concept is simple – guy that donated sperm a bunch of times finds out he has hundreds of children – and it is a comedy that is occasionally just funny. And it accomplishes all it sets out to do, and beautifully so.

On its surface, Starbuck seems like another story of a shiftless, late-30s white man. It even features a baby to force him to get his life in order. But the way Scott (with no small assist from the film's star, Patrick Huard) navigates this creative minefield is so sweet, tender, beautiful, and hilarious – the film really never takes a wrong step. Huard and the rest of the cast have created a universe with heart and joy that draws you in and leaves you feeling happier than when you arrived.

Some would call the film formulaic, and while I understand where they're coming from, I think it's lazy to dismiss a film on that basis. It's a very rare film that doesn't have some elements of a tried-and-true formula, and while films that break from formula and bring us something we've truly never seen before are rare and to be commended, formulas are in use because they work.

I think it's best if I end here, because I'm not sure how objective I can be. One of the risks of reviewing film is that we're human, and sometimes a film touches us in a way that it may not touch anyone else. Ebert himself, in his review of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, said, "I was almost hugging myself while I watched it." I was perfectly content to watch Huard's David Wozniak and his hundreds of children in perpetuity. Your mileage may vary. But Starbuck had me in tears more than once, and left me in awe when the credits rolled. If I'm wrong, then I'll loudly and proudly own my wrongness.

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Rating: 5/5

Joshua McCool can be found on Twitter @joshuaadavidd. His film ratings can be found at Letterboxd.

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