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Review: ‘Starbuck’ an absorbing case of who’s-your-daddy

“Sperm donor discovers he’s the father of 533 children.” Sounds like a ribald Blake Edwards flick from the mid-1980s, and with a little less attention, Starbuck could have been pulled clumsily down that path. But the Québécois comedy is ultimately a little more sophisticated and a lot more kind-hearted than that.

As a young man, David Wozniak (Patrick Huard) gave of himself nearly 700 times at a sperm bank down the street, profiting wildly from his deposits (and apparently, his vigor). Fast forward 22 years and David is now … well, pretty much in the same place. He delivers meat for his father’s butcher shop, grows pot in his apartment for extra cash and is in massive debt to the wrong people. He’s also about to become a father.

That means two things here, because David’s on-again, off-again girlfriend (Julie LeBreton) tells him she’s pregnant the day before he finds out that, as anonymous donor Starbuck, his seed was successfully planted hundreds of times, and 142 of his children are suing the clinic to learn his identity.

It’s ultimately a pretty mild concept, but writer-director Ken Scott makes an absorbing character piece out of it. David wants to become a better man, wants to prove to his girlfriend that he can change and finds very quickly how drawn he is to all of his other kids, whom he surreptitiously visits under one false impression or another.

This is one of those cases where driving in the middle of the road pays off. Taken any more seriously, Starbuck would lose the edge that comes from being so preposterous. Any looser and the joke’s not strong enough to last two hours. Scott’s secret is in the surprisingly frequent quiet moments, in which David, the movie and the audience gain a little perspective on things.