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In 2011, director Ken Scott debuted the French-Canadian film “Starbuck” at the Toronto International Film Festival. That film went on to earn nine awards from various film festivals and international award shows. Fast forward two years, and the same director has decided to redo the film in English for US audiences. It is the story of an early-40s man named David Wozniak, a lifetime underachiever who currently works as a truck driver for his father’s butcher shop. David is the type that coasts through life without putting much effort forward. His girlfriend discovers she is pregnant, but wants David out of the picture. He makes promises to his family, but can never live up to his word. And bad luck seems to follow him everywhere. On top of that, David owes upwards of $100k to unknown sources from failed business ventures and pyramid schemes. To sum it up nicely, David’s life is a disaster.
In the midst of all this, David is paid a visit by a lawyer who is representing a fertility clinic. In the early 1990s, David frequently donated sperm to the clinic in an effort to make money. Look it up, it actually pays well! In fact, he made nearly 700 donations, all signed anonymously under the alias “Starbuck.” Due to a clerical error, one doctor used only David’s sperm for fertilization during a two year period, leading to 533 children of which David is the biological father. Now, 142 of these children are suing the the fertility clinic to learn the identity of their father “Starbuck.” David is given an envelope containing the identities of these children, left with the choice of whether to remain anonymous or reveal his identity. After seeking advice from his own lawyer, a close friend named Brett, he decides to interact with some of his children to learn who they are without identifying his relationship to them. David begins to act as a “guardian angel” to several of his kids, overseeing their lives as though meeting them by accident or happenstance. He also makes an effort to clean up his own act and become a more responsible person. Meanwhile, the story of the lawsuit begins to reach the media, and the identity of “Starbuck” becomes a national inquiry. Can David continue his anonymity or will he face the truth publicly and privately about who he really is?
“Delivery Man” stars Vince Vaughn, who takes a break from his usual roles, where he is usually sarcastic and yelling loudly, to play a slightly comedic but more grounded character. The film co-stars Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”) as his girlfriend Emma and Chris Pratt (“Parks And Recreation”) as his best friend Brett. It also co-stars Andrzej Blumenfeld (in his American debut) as his father Mikolaj and Bobby Moynihan (“SNL”) as one of his brothers, Aleksy. The film also features a variety of fresh, young talent to play David’s various kids. The ones with more prominent roles are Jack Reynor, David Patten, Adam Chanler-Berat, Britt Robertson and Amos VanderPoel.
WHAT WORKED: I went into the movie not knowing whether it was going to be purely comedic or take a serious tone. I was pleasantly surprised when I got more of the latter. In fact, there are several moments in the film that are quite emotional. Given that David’s kids are around 20 years old, they are grappling with every day life issues. Whether it be financial troubles, job related, or even substance abuse, these are coupled with the current circumstances of not knowing who their father is. What made these children strong is their connection to each other. All of them are siblings, and it has brought them together as one large support group. The kids really steal the show. The most dramatic moment by far is when David meets one of his sons who is severely mentally handicapped and unable to speak. The scenes in which they interact together were not only emotional to watch, but felt genuinely real. This was Vince Vaughn’s strongest role, and one of the first times I have seen him show such a large and diverse range of feelings.
WHAT DID NOT WORK: While the rest of the plot is taking place, the small backstory of David being nearly $100k in debt comes in the form of “hitmen-like” characters that wreck his apartment and interrogate his father (although this is not seen). While I understand that this situation is necessary as a reminder of what a disappointment David has been all his life, and as a conflict of whether to file a counter-suit against the fertility clinic, I feel as though it was handled poorly. Making the situation more intense and threatening would have conflicted with the overall lighthearted feeling of the movie. It would have been better served if David was in debt to a bank or with creditors, rather than with an ominous gang of men (for which we are never even told what the debt was for). Also, the relationship between David and Emma was not developed enough. At the beginning when she learns of her pregnancy, she is quick to dismiss him from her life. But a short time later, she is accepting his involvement with no discussion of why her feelings have changed. It seemed unusual that given his effort to be more active in her life whilst also trying to secretly interact with his kids, she suspected nothing.
THE WRAP-UP: Going into “Delivery Man” with low expectations and without having seen the original film “Starbuck” beforehand left me surprised when the movie was over. Given the type of raunchy comedies that Vince Vaughn typically involves himself with, it was a nice change to see him take on a more serious role. While the film is not completely devoid of humor, most of the jokes are quick one liners and dry retorts. The film does tackle some serious issues with the kids’ lives, and gives some great advice on family unity. I actually wish the movie would have been even more of a drama, rather than a dramatic comedy. SCORE: 6.5/10 – Recommended, but not urgent to see it in theaters.