When David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) discovers that the thousands of dollars worth of sperm he donated in his late teens has made him the father of 533 children, it’s hard to know whether to chalk it up to good timing or to fate having an easy laugh: Just days earlier, David, a hapless delivery truck driver for his family’s butcher shop, found out that his girlfriend (Julie LeBreton) is pregnant but having doubts about keeping him around as the father. It’s hard to blame her (when we meet him, David is $80,000 in debt and growing pot, and poorly so, in his apartment), but her pregnancy awakens his paternal instincts, and not a moment too soon it seems. Of his 533 existing kids, 142 are suing the fertility clinic David used to find out his identity.
Starbuck’s quirky premise no doubt helped it become a box-office hit in Canada, and secured director Ken Scott the opportunity to do a Hollywood remake starring Vince Vaughan, out in theaters later this year. But it’s also, exaggerations in David’s situation aside, yet another example of modern-family predicaments getting stuffed into the traditional-family-values message of conventional comedies. As if David’s leap into fatherhood wasn’t enough to establish the film’s themes, everyone around him is also overcome by the grievances of parenting. David’s brother is on edge about the prospect of having a child, while David’s lawyer (Antoine Bertrand), a father of four, complains at every opportunity about his kids who “don’t pick up the frequency of my voice.” But of course both turn out to be loving, caring parents when it comes down to it. And while there’s a preponderance of male characters in the film (David’s girlfriend is the only prominent female), the filmmakers don’t grant much specificity to anyone’s worries and anxieties as fathers. We never hear a word about or see the wife of David’s lawyer, yet it’s never made clear whether he’s a single father. Rather than getting into particulars, the film favors platitudes—mostly of the “lean on me” variety—that are apt for any family or gender.
Starbuck is, on the face of it, a comedy, though one might miss that fact considering how it eschews laughs for sentimentalism. As part of their lawsuit, David’s 142 kids send him personal profiles, presumably to touch David’s heart and convince him to come out as the father. David decides instead to become their guardian angel, stalking them one by one until he finds a moment to shower them with a random act of kindness. And while this leads to one great scene where David finds himself at a meeting with all 142 of his unknowing children, otherwise it’s just more fodder for David’s self-realizations and yet another sappy montage. One might assume that discovering you’ve fathered hundreds of children would call into slight question the notion that all blood runs thicker than water. Starbuck, though, is more intent on making it a pivotal event for hundreds of insights about the importance of family. And once you realize that discovering 533 new heirs will be an unambiguously positive event in David’s life, it really takes a lot of the fun out of the gag.