05 May 2011

Starter for 10 (2006)

Starter for 10 is a British romantic comedy based on David Nicholls' novel of the same name. It stars James McAvoy as Brian Jackson who has been obsessed with quiz shows his whole life. When he leaves his working class neighbourhood to attend University, he leaps at the chance to join the University Challenge team.

On his first night in town, his new roommates drag him to a "Tarts & Vicars" theme party where he meets Rebecca (Rebecca Hall). Their paths cross again on his way to Challenge try-outs but he almost completely forgets her when Alice (Alice Eve), the clever blonde, catches his eye. From here, the film takes a well-beaten romantic path of falling for the wrong girl even though the right girl is clearly under his nose. However, even in this standard arena, the writing is good enough to rise above the average romcom. While Brian is pursuing Alice he is also in pursuit of general knowledge. His main obstacle to that goal is the petty competitiveness of Patrick Watts (Benedict Cumberbatch), the University Challenge team lead. The audience presumes from the outset that the climax will have to occur at the quiz show and the screenplay does not disappoint on that level.

Nichols' Starter for 10 feels very much like a Nick Hornby story -- both authors seem to write about young male adults awkwardly navigating through life. It also features a great soundtrack full of early to mid-80s British chart toppers: The Cure, early Wham!, Buzzcocks, New Order and more -- though I could have done without The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" on yet another soundtrack. The 80s retro-ness is not over the top, however, the movie could take place in almost any era.

Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, the film is well paced with just enough awkwardness to keep it from being saccharine and the cast strong enough to give well-rounded performances to even the smallest roles.


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