Having modeled his life after Francis Bacon’s idea that “knowledge is power,” plucky English teen Brian (James McAvoy) abandons his beachfront home for the University of Bristol in Starter for Ten, a film whose own wisdom about the world seems principally derived from innumerable coming-of-age tales. While acclimating himself to college in 1985, Brian nabs a spot on the school’s team for University Challenge, a TV trivia show that he and his now-deceased pop used to watch together. This accomplishment leads him to potential romances with both the squad’s Barbie-doll hottie Alice (Alice Eve) and a protest-loving revolutionary named Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who, in a bit of Some Kind of Wonderful obviousness, is clearly a perfect match for the dorky intellectual. A muggle version of Harry Potter (dark-rimmed glasses included), Brian is awed and intimidated by his new educational environs, though there’s nothing astonishing, or even unique, about the formulaic situations he finds himself in. Torn between his old roughneck, Motorhead-loving mates and new, intellectual friends, as well as conflicted over his feelings for Alice and Rebecca, Brian winds up traveling a well-worn course toward political and self-awareness, which involves a series of cheesy amorous and game show-related episodes (the latter bereft of any Quiz Show critique) that are drenched in Robert Smith’s mushy New Romantic crooning. Period detail is dutiful, and a few cursory incidents exude emotional honesty before their inevitably trite conclusions (such as a goofy, Popeye-style knockout). Starter for Ten, however, is so scrawny and superfluous that even its minor pleasures—such as Hall, whose charisma manages to shine through her character’s groan-worthy Jewish-socialist-activist exterior—are mere footnotes amid the avalanche of precious meet-and-greets, faux-complicated relationship entanglements, and ingratiating smiles and frowns from the exceptionally unexceptional McAvoy.
- 96 min
- Tom Vaughan
- David Nicholls
- James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper, Alice Eve, Charles Dance, Lindsay Duncan, Catherine Tate
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: