Starter For Ten
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Cast & Crew Interviews; University Challenge 80’s Quiz; Theatrical Trailer.
IT’S been a while since we’ve had a British romantic comedy to rival the likes of Bridget Jones or Love Actually for sheer entertainment value but Starter For Ten fits that bill perfectly.
Based on David Nicholls’ popular 2004 novel of the same name, the film works on so many levels that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
It’s romantic without being slushy, nostalgic without being kitsch and intelligent without being over-bearing and it boasts some terrific performances and a really cracking soundtrack.
Set in 1985, the film follows the fortunes of Brian (James McAvoy) as he embarks on life at Bristol University determined to make his mark.
A devotee of TV’s University Challenge, he quickly accepts the opportunity to appear on the show as part of the uni team, and subsequently encounters Alice (Alice Eve), a beautiful but posh colleague with whom he becomes instantly smitten.
As he struggles to bridge the class divide and adapt to university life, however, it soon becomes clear that happiness is far more likely to be found in the sympathetic arms of Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) who spends most of her time supporting political campaigns.
It may be predictable but then much of Starter For Ten‘s appeal lies with this welcome sense of familiarity – it knows what its audience wants and sets about delivering it in style.
It also marks the first film to come from Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions and boasts Tom Hanks as an executive producer.
It’ll be remembered, however, for James McAvoy, whose first-rate performance provides the film with its impressive heartbeat.
The young actor is rapidly making a name for himself as one of the UK’s finest new stars (witness Inside I’m Dancing, The Chronicles of Narnia and the upcoming The Last King of Scotland) and here delivers a character that’s both funny and endearing.
Audiences will have no trouble laughing along with some of his cringe-inducing embarrassments but, crucially, they’ll sympathise with his sense of awkwardness and isolation.
He also displays a great deal of generosity towards his support cast, most of whom make similarly strong impressions.
Rebecca Hall, for instance, is terrific as Brian’s friend and possible true love, Dominic (The History Boys) Cooper is good value as his rebelious best friend, and Benedict Cumberbatch is a blast as the wildly eccentric and hopelessly posh team leader of the University Challenge team.
There are also nice turns from Alice Eve, Catherine Tate and Charles Dance to look out for.
Tom (Cold Feet) Vaughn’s direction also keeps things moving at a lively pace and invokes a wonderful sense of ’80s nostalgia, without ever overmilking things, and the soundtrack is an absolute blast (especially if you dig The Cure).
The best thing that can be said about Starter For Ten, however, is that it delivers the warm, feel-good glow expected of the best films in its genre. It’s a smart little crowdpleaser that deserves a big embrace.
Running time: 97mins