I aim to raise the profile of the 99p rental, and it’s working already. Just six weeks since I started and in this month’s Total Film magazine they’ve named iTunes 99p rental number 16 in their ‘Future 100’. Nice to know they’re fans of HUG.
Starter for 10 is based on the book by David Nicholls, who also adapted the screenplay. Directed by Tom Vaughan (What Happens in Vegas), it’s the story of Brian (McAvoy), who leaves his working class town and his widowed mother to go off to Bristol University. When he arrives he finds he has nothing in common with his room mates. He meets a girl, Rebecca, at a party that night but his nervous patter screws up any chance he had. Dejected and drunk, he stumbles back to his digs. Along the way, much to his excitement, he finds a notice for University Challenge auditions. At the auditions, he helps an attractive girl, Alice, with her test questions and as a result, she beats him to the final team place. Named as first alternative, he makes the team after all due to one of their team-mates suffering a mishap.
The set-up for Starter For 10 leads you to believe it’s going to be about Brian and his team striving for victory. However, the contest, and indeed Brian’s academic studies, take a back seat to his romantic (mis)adventures. Though he is clearly better suited to the intellectual and sensitive Rebecca, he strikes up a relationship with the sexually charged blond-bombshell Alice instead.
Whether this movie is intended as drama, comedy or romance isn’t clear, but it fails on all three counts. When Brian stays with Alice’s family for Christmas, his poor social skills lead to misunderstandings that are clearly meant to be humorous, but fall flat. The one-liners are weak too. At the auditions, only four people turn up to begin with, and we’re treated to the obvious ‘only the top four will make the team’. The drama should come when Brian’s best friend takes a shine to his love Alice, but by this point we’re past caring.
That’s probably the biggest problem here. Whilst we’re supposed to find Brian’s bumbling charm endearing, he’s really just annoying, and his shallow relationship choices actually fairly obnoxious. James McAvoy, so good in The Last King of Scotland, initially appears to be slumming it here. But then you realise he’s not even doing the best with what he’s been given. The only real acting stand-out is Catherine Tate as Brian’s Mum, and that’s not a great recommendation.
The outcome of the contest, when we finally get back on track, is unexpected. In fact, compared to the rest of the film, it’s almost a stroke of genius, the only good moment. It’s far too little, far too late however. The best thing about watching on an ipod touch was that i could just pick it up and watch the film in short bursts.
Part of the reason i started the 99p rental segment was so i’d be forced to watch films I normally wouldn’t bother to watch. And sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. But I’d give ten points to anyone who could answer me the question – how does anyone see this film as a good investment, when great British films like Academy Award winner Slumdog Millionaire, and the forthcoming Harry Brown struggle to find funding?
So, my opinion of Starter For 10? Even more pointless than Exeter University, the team with the lowest score in the last 30 years of University Challenge. Starter For 10 is available at the discounted rental price until Monday 5th October at Midnight. Is it available on DVD? Seriously, who’d buy it..?