Canada (2011) Dir. Ken Scott
David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) is a forty-two year old slacker working as a meat delivery man for his father (Igor Ovadis). In debt to some heavies to the tune of $80,000 and upon learning that his long suffering girlfriend policewoman Valérie (Julie Le Breton) is pregnant, David is desperate for money. To add to his woes David is visited by Chamberland (Patrick Labbé) a lawyer representing a sperm bank David frequented in his teens for money under the pseudonym “Starbuck” with news that over the years he had fathered 533 children!
And worse still, 142 have brought a class action to challenge the anonymity clause adhered to by both David and the clinic so they can meet their biological father. From the files given to him by his lawyer friend Paul (Antoine Bertrand), who is representing him, David tracks down his kids, keeping his identity secret while he performing acts of kindness as their “guardian angel”.
The whacky concept and fast cut trailer will have you believe this is an irreverent, low brow, adult slacker comedy in the vein of a Judd Apatow film. This is one book that can’t be judged by its cover as Canadian comedian and filmmaker Ken Scott instead delivers us a heart warming if occasionally schmaltzy offering that is surprisingly more akin to a sentimental US TV drama than anything else.
A complete contradiction for certain considering the central plot but thankfully this is nowhere near as sickening or as cheesy as the aforementioned anodyne outings just in case you were tempted to give this film a miss. However it comes as little surprises that it has just been remade by Hollywood as The Delivery Man starring Vince Vaughan.
The raciest scene (as such) in the entire film comes at the very beginning when we meet a young David (Maxime Després) busy at the sperm clinic. That really is a bawdy as it gets outside of some of the fancy nicknames people give to Starbuck once the news of his services to Quebec’s adoption agencies becomes public knowledge. Aside from some a few instances of salty language this is quite a safe film all things considered.
David is a slacker, forever letting people down yet has an innate charm that wins people over, except for Valérie who doesn’t want him anywhere near the baby. Keen to prove to Valérie that he can be a good father to the child, he David decides to look up some of the 142 offspring he sired and tries to do a good deed for them.
As you might expect David’s spawn are an eclectic and varied bunch. One is a successful footballer who David watches from afar; Julie (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse), whom he meets disguised a pizza delivery man, is a recovering junkie who ODs in front of him, forcing him to “pretend” to be her father at the hospital.
Elsewhere, Étienne (Patrick Martin) is an aspiring actor stuck at a coffee shop, one daughter is a manicurist, Marco (Félix-Antoine Tremblay) is a lifeguard at the local pool, another son (David Giguère) is a busker, one is a gay lothario and Raphaél (Sébastien René) is a disabled kid stuck in hospital. David’s small acts of charity earns their respect, resulting in a weekend camping trip away for all 142 of them, unaware this is the man they are taking to court as their mystery father.
Despite this saccharine development that belies the bawdy premise Ken Scott keeps everything going at a brisk enough pace to ensure the audience stays the distance, buttressed by a believable performance from leading man Patrick Huard, who in turn creates a likeable and earnest character out of a venerable loser.
An ironic thread that runs through the story is how everyone tries to dissuade David from being a father, with Paul speaking the loudest with the four kids he sired weighing him down. Valérie not only wants to keep David at a distance but she is starting have second through about motherhood. Meanwhile David’s Good Samaritan act is winning his oblivious children over do wonders for his esteem as well as offering some hope and support to the kids themselves.
While Scott and co-writer Martin Petit will earn kudos for taking the high road in some respects, adding some grittiness and extreme comedy errors might have diverted this film from the middle of the road direction it heads in. Another area also underdeveloped is the question of David’s anonymity and the legalities behind it.
When the news breaks public opinion is that Starbuck is selfish pervert and a coward. We never actually learn why his children want the confidentiality clause breached and it certainly isn’t raised between any of them at any of the mass gatherings at any point either. Finally, the actual courts case is mostly a musical montage of David’s brood giving evidence quickly followed by the verdict, another opportunity to explore this theme in depth well and truly missed.
There is no questioning that the journey David goes on is meant to address the issue of what being a parent truly means and in its own way, it gives us some food for thought; although once again, Julie aside, with no background or exposition for the lives of the children given, how are we supposed to judge if they ever hard a hard life as an adoptee or whether David’s presence was the salvation they needed? If there is a flaw to be examined it is how this film doesn’t challenge the conventions of both its issue and the manner in it which is told, the end result being an enjoyable and well played out yarn that entertains, remains positive but lacks bite.
Starbuck will either surprise or disappoint depending on how you approach this film from reading the summary or viewing the trailer. It’s perfectly fine for what it is but its safety holds it back from being the game changer it could have been.