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Later this year, Vince Vaughn will lend his characteristic sense of humor to writer-director Ken Scott’s high-concept comedy Delivery Man, about a loner who once donated to a sperm bank, only to learn he has fathered hundreds of children he’d now like to meet. Completists preparing for Vaughn’s take on the material will want to start, however, with Starbuck, Scott’s 2011 French-language comedy on which his Americanized reboot will be based.
Before Vaughn there was Patrick Huard, a scruffy bear of an actor who lends tremendous warmth and pathos to the role of David. David’s the prototypical cinematic fuck up. He’s irresponsible, immature but inherently likeable. He barely holds down his delivery gig for a local butcher, meaning he can’t pay off the bookies and bill collectors who are trying to collect roughly $80,000 in past debts. When David’s told by his off-again girlfriend Valerie (Julie LeBreton) that he has impregnated her, the look of disappointment that dances across her face tells us all that we’d need to know about his potential as a father and caregiver.
That ends up being really bad news for a large group of people. One afternoon, David is approached by a representative from the sperm bank to which he made several deposits under the name “Starbuck.” Over time, our protagonist finds he fathered 533 children with an army of anonymous women. Now, 142 are suing the clinic in an effort to get them to waive the confidentiality agreement David signed years ago. Essentially, these fatherless folks want to know who “Starbuck” is.
It’s a far-fetched premise, though one that’s brought down to Earth by Scott’s emotionally upbeat writing, his brisk direction, and Huard’s nimble, large-hearted performance as the deadbeat who finds new life in the individual existences of his surprise “children.”
Handed a file folder containing information on the plaintiffs, David starts peeking in on the grown kids. Perhaps as expected, they show a few of his faults. Some are broke. Others are dreamers chasing an impossible goal. David starts to help wherever he can, though there’s only so much one man can do … particularly when he’s trying to keep his true identity a secret.
Scott’s screenplay works well as a confessional on the hardships of parenting, as well as on the rewards that can come with sacrificing your own existence to benefit another (as most moms and dads happily do on an hourly basis). Starbuck broaches the ongoing “nature versus nurture” debate by wondering how much of you exists in a person you might have fathered but never met. It’s often coincidental, but always incredibly sweet. It tackles all of its controversies with a light comedic touch that’s backed by an effervescent musical selection that lifts the mood.
And then there’s Huard, who doesn’t play the stereotypically imbecilic man-child Adam Sandler has defined over the years. The actor infuses David with compassion, humor and a tinge of regret as he’s given a chance to reverse his bad decisions, one prodigal child at a time. Thirty years ago, Bill Murray would have crushed this part. Tom Hanks might have attempted to fill Huard’s big shoes 20 years ago. Vaughn should do just fine.