Starter for TenReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/12/07 19:06:17
(Worth A Look)
There is almost nothing in "Starter for 10" which isn't somewhat familiar from nearly every coming of age film ever made: The dorky yet kind of good looking narrator, the awkward parents, the weird friends, the obviously pretty girl and the cooler (but also pretty) girl. You can see what's coming a mile away. That's not exactly a bad thing; it just means the movie has to make up for its lack of creativity with execution, and it does all right there.The dorky narrator is Brian Jackson (James McAvoy), a bloke from Essex starting at Bristol College. He meets Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall) at a "tarts and vicars" party his first night there, and then meets Alice Harbinson (Alice Eve) when they both sign up for the "University Challenge" team (he remembers random facts, she wants to be on television). Alice proves impossible to resist, and even though a Christmas break spent at her family's cottage shows he's more interested in her than vice versa, it's not quite so simple to jump to the other girl.
It's pretty obvious where all this is going, so it's important that the getting there be enjoyable. It is, mostly because writer David Nicholls has provided the cast with a bunch of amusing characters to play. Aside from the main three, there's Dominic Cooper and James Corden as Spencer and Tone, Brian's friends from back home who are worried about university making him a complete wanker; Spencer is in the leather jacket and too cool for the room while Tone is the excitable one in the jean jacket. Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch) is precisely the sort of wanker they're talking about, a Challenge-obsessed grad student who freezes up on camera and is more than a bit of an upper-class snob. That Brian is better at this than him confuses Nigel, and he tends to respond with a hilarious blank stare. The students' parents are also a stitch: Catherine Tate is charmingly maternal as Brian's mother, with John Henshaw as the ice cream man she's taken up with. Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan are Alice's parents, bohemian types who insist on being called by their first names and who completely fail to understand Brian's dorky pop-culture jokes - vacation goes straight to hell after the inevitable Graduate reference. And then there's the guy at every party who just got back from India...
Of course, these folks are mainly around to flesh out Brian's world. Brian himself is as likable as one could want; McAvoy has the knack for enthusiastically saying or doing something foolish and selling it with immediate and painful embarrassment. He's not a guy with no social graces, but someone who will always find the absolute wrong way to handle a new situation. He's got depth beyond goofy, to be sure, and McAvoy is able to show us that without it seeming like a 180-degree turn away from the comedic portrayal. So does Alice Eve, for that matter; as shallow as the character of Alice is, she's so lacking in malice that we're able to laugh at her as a zany side character soon after she hurts Brian pretty badly. Ironically, considering how by-the-numbers the story is, Eve nearly manages the trick of making us root for an outcome of Alice maturing instead of Brian realizing that Rebecca is the one for him. Rebecca Hall does a marvelous girl-next-door, but she's not given the personality quirks that McAvoy and Eve get. She gets more opportunity to be serious or sincere, and does manage the bit of being charming even if she makes you work at it.
Nicholls and director Tom Vaughan set the film in the mid-eighties, allowing them to load the soundtrack up with bands that run the gamut from Wham! to The Cure. They happily resist the temptation to drift into Wedding Singer territory ("look, something dated! Isn't that hilarious?"), unless you count one of Rebecca's many causes to be protesting against nuclear energy (is that generally seen as good or evil nowadays?). They have fun with the fashion and technology of the time without making the characters look like freaks, and there are mercifully few characters in the movie who are not funny at some point. And while the audience may see developments and finishes coming a mile away, nothing feels obligatory or unlikely."Starter for 10" is a likable little romantic comedy that may wind up playing in boutique houses rather than next to its Hollywood ilk for no better reason than its cast having English accents. It does the job, and does it fairly well.
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