"Starter for 10"
Directed by Tom Vaughan
Written by David Nicholls
Starring: James McAvoy, Alice Eve, and Rebecca Epstein
A new romantic comedy opening at Kendall Cinema gets its enigmatic title, "Starter for 10," from the British game show, "University Challenge." Apparently, British people would catch this reference and it would mean something for them. However, the reference is lost on us Americans, but that isn't too important because "University Challenge" isn't really the focus of the movie, and the storyline never really pans out. Then again, I am not really sure what the focus of "Starter for 10" is. The main point is that there is a college freshman, Brian (James McAvoy) and he has two love interests, Alice (Alice Eve) and Rebecca (Rebecca Epstein).
My biggest complaint with "Starter for 10" is the pacing — the beginning goes by very quickly and with hardly any exposition, but then the end drags on eternally. We see Brian's childhood, his admittance to college, and meet his best friends in a matter of minutes. This speedy opening leaves the whole remainder of the film vacant, lacking the body necessary for a compelling film. In this genre, by the end of the film when the two destined people finally get together, we as the audience should really be invested in their love. We should be rooting for them and then be exhilarated when they finally kiss. These movies are meant to make us believe in love and good things again, no matter how bad and stressful our lives are. At the end of "Starter for 10," I couldn't have cared less whether or not Brian and Rebecca got together. In fact, I was a little confused about their connection and why they were meant to be together. This was not helped by a final thirty minutes that seemed to drag on for an hour as I waited for the ending that I had predicted after watching the first five minutes.
From the very start, I was concerned by the cheesy voice-over narration. Cliché alarm bells began going off in my head and I knew that I could be in for trouble. A few moments later, as Brian packs to head off to University, he gets teary eyed as he holds a ratty black and white photo of his father in his palm. Surprise! He has daddy issues too! This has certainly never been done in film. The unexpected plot twists just keep on coming as we meet Brian's crazy roommates who drink too much and are messy! It was beginning to look like a bastardized John Hughes flick, but James McAvoy is no Molly Ringwald. Somewhere near the midpoint in the film, however, "Starter for 10" begins to take itself less seriously and now I am left to ponder whether it is meant to be embracing or mocking these teen romance conventions. There are a couple of moments that are so evidently poking fun at the very genre to which this film belongs that I began to reverse my initial opinion. For example, when Brian meets the dream blond bombshell, Alice, for the first time, the music changes and we see her swoosh her golden locks in slow motion. The effect was an entire audience laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the scene. In the end, these contradictions left the film feeling unbalanced something just didn't click. Plus, I may have thrown up a little in my mouth during the final voice-over where Brian endows us with his newfound wisdom, "It's not knowing the right answer, but asking the right question." Thanks, but I'll stick to knowing the answers.
Now that I have systematically torn apart "Starter for 10," I have to say that it was not all bad. The film had its moments. I enjoyed the fun accents and the attention to detail in the sets and costumes. "Starter for 10" is set in the '80s and the filmmakers did a pretty good job of catching the mood and fashion of the time. They included a rockin' soundtrack with music from The Cure, Wham!, Bananarama, The Smiths, and New Order to name a few. As mentioned previously, there were also a couple scenes that transcended the frontier into campiness — overusing the clichés that serve as the film's foundation. I only wish that there had been more of this, or that it had been consistent.
So what have we learned? We should follow our hearts, be all we can be, never forget our roots, drink lots of Red Stripe, and listen to Bananarama. This is all good, but the most important lesson one can learn from "Starter for 10" is the following: all girls named Alice are gorgeous.