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Friday Film Review: Starter for 10

Starter for 10
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Grade: C+/B-

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.”

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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.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

9 Comments

  1. Aoife
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 06:45:24

    I really enjoyed this movie when I saw it, and would agree with your grade of B-. I didn’t totally buy the romantic aspects of the plot, but liked James McAvoy and the rest of the characters a lot. I will say, though, that all of them seemed a little old for their roles to me.

  2. Jayne
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 08:22:46

    I like that none of the characters are turned into villains. When the movie ended, I still at least liked them all.

  3. Kate
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 12:27:24

    I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, probably for 1. my minor obsession with James McAvoy and 2. the weirdness of University Challenge (having lived in England, I have to admit to watching the show pretty regularly and almost always rooting for the non-Oxbridge teams. I like the underdogs.) Your review is entirely right: enjoyable, not life-changing.

    And I was just listening to Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark’s “If You Leave” as I read your review. Perfect.

  4. nekobawt
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 13:05:18

    the BBC did a “shakespeare revisited” series, and one of the episodes had james mcavoy as a modern day macbeth–set in a restaurant, where macbeth was…i think it’s “sous chef”? whichever position is just under head chef. richard armitage played duncan, the head waiter (or whatever that position is called…).

    either way, VERY gripping, and mcavoy was nothing short of awesome.

  5. Babs
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 13:33:52

    I loved this movie — the music totally won me over since I was in high school and college during the same time period. And it was charming but not smarmy because my husband watched and enjoyed it with me!

  6. Jayne
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 14:57:19

    the BBC did a “shakespeare revisited” series, and one of the episodes had james mcavoy as a modern day macbeth-set in a restaurant, where macbeth was…i think it's “sous chef”?

    I am constantly amazed at the variety of modern interpretations of Shakespeare. And I bet MacAvoy was fantastic.

  7. Jennie
    Jul 31, 2009 @ 22:30:30

    Yeah, that sounds awesome (the MacBeth, I mean; I haven’t seen this movie but it sounds cute and James McAvoy is awesome). I recently saw a production of Twelfth Night that featured 60s music and costuming. It was pretty cool.

  8. Aoife
    Aug 01, 2009 @ 06:44:18

    the BBC did a “shakespeare revisited” series, and one of the episodes had james mcavoy as a modern day macbeth-set in a restaurant, where macbeth was…i think it's “sous chef”? whichever position is just under head chef. richard armitage played duncan, the head waiter (or whatever that position is called…).

    I liked a lot of the episodes in this series, but I have to say that my favorite was Taming of the Shrew, not the easiest play to update. Katharine was portrayed as a career-driven MP, and Petruchio as an earl who needed to marry for money–with a few other twists to his character.

    Jayne said:

    I like that none of the characters are turned into villains. When the movie ended, I still at least liked them all.

    I agree. That was one of the most refreshing things about the movie. I was expecting someone to morph into a bad guy, but they all essentially were pretty decent human beings, in their own flawed ways.

  9. nekobawt
    Aug 03, 2009 @ 17:59:42

    @Aoife: “macbeth” got a very impressed “holy shit…” out of me, but “taming of the shrew’s” my favorite episode, as well.

    “i never bring my knickers on vacation, anyway.”

    and all the little twists, and bianca’s dumbfounded expression at the end scene (not to mention her fiance can’t speak a word of english–“cazi?”), and OMG petruchio’s EYES. first time i’ve ever seen actually golden eyes. thought it was just an anime thing. i’m going to have to watch it again tonight, methinks.

    [/threadjack]

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