Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) has a near-insatiable thirst for knowledge. In fact, one of the happiest memories of his now-deceased father is sharing time in front of the quintessentially British game show "University Challenge." It's Brian's quest to attend a well-regarded university and perhaps even land an appearance on the quiz show that forms the narrative spine of Starter for 10, an amiable, slight coming-of-age dramedy that succeeds largely upon the appeal of rising star McAvoy's performance.
Adapted from David Nicholls' book (by the author himself), Starter for 10 unfolds almost exactly as you'd expect: a young boy from the less privileged side of the tracks earns his way into one of the more prestigious English schools in mid-Eighties, Thatcher England, fumbling his way through love, class and life lessons. Brian finds himself torn between the slightly radical Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the cluelessly promiscuous Alice (Alice Eve), women who are poles apart but somehow come to represent Brian's dual nature. With the timeless sounds of The Cure, the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and many more providing a sonic backdrop, Brian attempts to survive his first year of college, learning far more than he first set out to.
Director Tom Vaughan keeps things moving swiftly along, with only a few dead spots marring the film's flow -- McAvoy's easygoing charm smoothes over most of the bumps, particularly towards the film's climax when he's saddled with more than one numbingly obvious speech. Hall, who's an eerie ringer for Molly Ringwald, delivers a crackling performance, but she's largely the only cast member showing any real signs of life; most on screen play their by-the-numbers roles to indifferent effect. Still, Starter for 10 is an amusing, slightly ingratiating diversion that would be the perfect flick to throw on some rainy afternoon. One of the quotes adorning the DVD case likens the film to the unimpeachable mid-Eighties work of John Hughes. Not quite -- but the spirit is certainly there.
Starter for 10 looks fine in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that occasionally exhibits some fleeting flecks and soft edges -- the defects don't distract mightily from the overall experience, but given the film's seemingly low-budget origins, this is probably as sharp as it'll ever look.
All those classic mope-rock tracks sound perfect on this Dolby Digital 5.1 track -- every Cure, Smiths and Psychedelic Furs cut is without a single sonic flaw. Dialogue is also heard clearly, free from any distortion or drop-out. An optional Spanish Dolby 2.0 track is included, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Not much here -- a quirky "pop up music guide" that plays during the film and keys you in to the admittedly fantastic soundtrack assembled by the filmmakers, as well as your standard-issue "HBO First Look" promo is all she wrote.
Rising star James McAvoy's easygoing charm smoothes over most of Starter for 10's bumps, particularly towards the film's climax when he's saddled with more than one numbingly obvious speech. Starter for 10 is an amusing, slightly ingratiating diversion that would be the perfect flick to throw on some rainy afternoon. One of the quotes adorning the DVD case likens the film to the unimpeachable mid-Eighties work of John Hughes. Not quite -- but the spirit is certainly there. Recommended.