Two Comedies from eOne Films
The Family Tree (November 22/11)
Though it boasts an admittedly impressive list of performers, The Family Tree, for the most part, comes off as a misguided and thoroughly obnoxious piece of work that wears out its welcome almost immediately. The narrative, which is bursting with needless subplots, essentially details the turmoil that ensues after Hope Davis' Bunnie Burnett loses her memory, with the event inevitably impacting her relationships with the various folks in her life - including her husband (Dermot Mulroney's Jack), her children (Max Thieriot's Eric and Britt Robertson's Kelly), and even her secret lover (Chi McBride's Simon). It's clear right from the get-go that filmmaker Vivi Friedman isn't looking to cultivate an atmosphere of gritty authenticity, as the director has infused the proceedings with a cartoonish and relentlessly quirky sensibility that instantly sets a very specific tone for everything that follows. The excessively broad vibe, which is reflected in, for example, the over-the-top performances and less-than-subtle plot developments, serves only to exacerbate the movie's pervasive lack of cohesiveness, with the increasingly random and pointless bent of Mark Lisson's screenplay - eg the ongoing exploits of two wacky criminals (Bow Wow's T-Boy and Jermaine Williams' Trey) - ensuring that The Family Tree runs out of steam long before the eye-rollingly frenetic climax rolls around. It's finally difficult to imagine just what Friedman initially set out to accomplish with this mess, and while the novelty of the eclectic cast sporadically does lift the film out of its doldrums, The Family Tree is simply (and ultimately) a misfire of almost epic proportions that's sure to frustrate and annoy even the most open-minded of viewers.
Starbuck (November 22/11)
Armed with an irresistibly high-concept storyline, Starbuck generally comes off as a perfectly watchable yet decidedly uneven comedy/drama that benefits from Patrick Huard's consistently engrossing performance. The film follows Huard's David Wozniak, an affable slacker, as he learns that his donated sperm was used to father 533 children in the early 1990s, with the revelation inevitably forcing David to clean up his act and face his responsibilities. It's an off-kilter premise that's employed to entertaining effect by director Ken Scott, as the filmmaker does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings - with Huard's striking work certainly playing an instrumental role in the movie's early success. There's subsequently little doubt that Starbuck is at its best when focused on David's ongoing dealings with his newfound children, with the episodic midsection - eg David helps his daughter get clean, David walks his drunk son home, etc, etc - far more engaging and intriguing than one might have necessarily anticipated. It's just as clear, however, that the movie's languid pace becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, with the padded-out running time ensuring that the narrative begins to noticeably run out of steam as it passes the one hour mark - which is a shame, really, given that Scott has peppered the latter half of the proceedings with a number of unexpectedly poignant moments (eg David's encounters with his mentally-handicapped son). The end result is an unexpectedly conventional effort that does, generally speaking, manage to hold the viewer's interest from start to finish, although it's clear that the movie is, for the most part, simply unable to raise itself to the level of Huard's captivating turn as the title character.