For all of you who were thinking “Jayne only likes old movies,” I decided to pick one that’s not 70 years old. Yes, it’s set in 1985 but it was just released in 2006! So that counts, right? Why did I pick this? 1) James McAvoy. 2) I was in college in 1985 so a trip down memory lane looked good to me.
Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) is a working class teenager who’s just been accepted at Bristol University. Brian loves knowledge, loves learning and genuinely wants the chance to study and improve himself unlike some of his mates from home. So off he goes with the challenge of his friend, Spencer (Dominic Cooper), ringing in his ears for Bri to “not become a wanker.”
Next follow scenes of Bri starting to find his way around, going to lackluster “costumed” theme mixers and pretending, like most of the other freshmen, that he’s having a good time at them. One of the first women he meets at a party is Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall) who’s the slightly more sophisticated campus protest leader.
It’s at a meeting to test for a place on the campus “University Challenge” quiz team, that Brian meets the lovely Alice (Alice Eve) and the captain of the team Patrick Watts (Benedict Cumberbatch). There aren’t that many interested in being on the team but the ones who are, are fanatical, especially Patrick who’s out to avenge last year’s loss to an Oxford college team.
Slightly nerdy Brian is stunned that Alice, with her extensive sexual history, will go out with him and he happily accepts her invitation to join her (slightly odd) family (Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan) for New Years. However, things don’t go as planned and he ends up back in Bristol where he again meets up with Rebecca, only to hurt her feelings.
But the quiz matches will start soon and the team is spending hours being tested by the obsessive Patrick. When the match begins, at first the Bristol team falters then roars back into contention only to end up out of the running due to Brian. It’s then that Brian learns some important life lessons and finally decides which person he really loves.
I’ve seen this film described as “feel good” and TBH, that’s basically what it is. Anyone who’s seen the so called “Brat Pack” movies of the 1980s will probably be able to sketch out the plot in advance. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before yet “Starter for 10” is done so nicely that I don’t care.
The film makers have done a great job with the costumes – not too over the top 80s fashions – and music – Tears for Fears, Kate Bush, The Cure, and Bananarama among others. As well, the feeling of groping your way through your initial days at university – “We’re College Students Now!” – took me straight back more years than I care to mention at this point.
James McAvoy is fab. He’s older than his character but he manages to convey fresh-faced enthusiasm and that slightly overdone melodrama which any self absorbed eighteen year old can produce at that age. Physically, Alice Eve reminds me of a young Joanna Lumley while Rebecca Hall brings to mind Molly Ringwald. I’ll be interested to see what both of them do in years to come. But, for me, the actor who manages to steal second place in the film is Benedict Cumberbatch who does a marvelous “stick up his butt” rendition of the quiz team captain.
“Starter for 10” won’t change anyone’s life who sees it. I don’t think it will propel any of these actors to superstardom. Yet by the same token, it won’t be a film that any of those involved with it regret in years to come. It’s a nice way to spend 96 minutes and you certainly could do worse.