Starter for 10 Review
By Shawn McKenzie 03/20/2007
Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) is a working-class student from Essex in 1985. He has always had a fascination with gathering up enough knowledge to consider himself “clever.” When he was a kid, a young Brian (Joseph Friend, Brian as a kid) would watch the quiz show “University Challenge” (which is like “Jeopardy,” though it was originally based on the American show “College Bowl”) with his suit salesman father Martin (James Gaddas.) Now he is going to begin his first year at Bristol University, and a few people aren’t happy about it. His now-widowed shoe factory worker mother Julie (Catherine Tate) doesn’t want to see him go away, though she has found herself a new man in a widowed ice cream man named Des (John Henshaw.) Also, his mates…mixtape-making/video game arcade attendant Spenser (Dominic Cooper) and Motörhead-loving Tone (James Corden)…are afraid that he will turn out to be a stuck-up jerk. Brian arrives at Bristol, where he meets his two roommates, Josh (Simon Woods) and Marcus (Sule Rimi.) At first, Brian thought that they were cross-dressers, but he soon realizes that it’s for a Tarts & Vicars dance. At the party, Brian meets a hot Jewish girl named Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall), a politically conscious activist who rallies against Apartheid, nuclear proliferation, pornography, and more. The next day, Brian sees a flyer for the tryouts for “University Challenge,” and is surprised that only three others were trying out for the Bristol team. The three trying out are: Minneapolis-born Lucy Chang (Elaine Tan), a quiet guy named Colin (Ian Bonar), and a hot blonde named Alice Harbinson (Alice Eve.) They all take the test in front of stuck-up team captain Patrick Watts (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is still reeling from his defeat last year against Queen’s College Cambridge. Alice asks Brian to let her cheat off his test, which ironically puts her on the team…leaving Brian to become first reserve. When Colin is injured accidentally after being hit by a bus, Brian is upped to team member. While preparing for the show, hosted by Bamber Gascoigne (Mark Gatiss), he starts falling in love with Alice…while not realizing that Rebecca is actually the perfect girl for him.
Do you remember those great John Hughes comedies of the ‘80s like the Molly trilogy (1984’s Sixteen Candles, 1985’s The Breakfast Club, and 1986’s Pretty in Pink)…before the writer/director decided to wallow in kiddie movies, like the Home Alone and Beethoven movies? The fun, nostalgic, ‘80s-set Starter for 10 reminded me of those movies.
British TV director Tom Vaughan has adapted writer David Nicholls’ screenplay (based off his own 2003 novel), and this is Vaughan’s debut theatrical feature. If the director’s start begins with this movie, I’d love to see where he goes from here.
Why did the movie remind me of the Hughes movies? It’s because the movie had a similar plot of a young adult caught up in a love triangle where that person is pining over one of the prettier/more handsome person in the triangle, while that person doesn’t realize that the other person in the triangle is actually perfect for him/her. That happens in this movie, so I kind of figured out where the plot was going to go (McAvoy would be the “Molly” here.) Do I care? No, since it was funny…despite the predictability of the plot.
I loved the cast. McAvoy achieved success in America as the faun in 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and as the young Scottish doctor of Ugandan President Idi Amin in last year’s The Last King of Scotland. While this movie is only getting a limited release, I think that it will give American audiences a chance to show off his comedic skills. The two women in his life, played by Eve and Hall, do a good job for their roles that they were given. The highlight for me though, other than McAvoy, was Cumberbatch. His snobbish “University Challenge” team captain was funny, because it was amusing to see his ego get in the way of what was right for the team. Cumberbatch was one of the few highlights of this year’s rather boring Amazing Grace, where he played future Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.
If Hughes ever gets back in the game and directs more movies (his last movie that he directed was 1991’s Curly Sue and the last movie that he wrote the screenplay for was 2002’s Maid in Manhattan), I’m hoping it will be more in the vein of his ‘80s movies. Otherwise, I’d like to see where Vaughan goes in the future if he becomes the new British Hughes.
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