Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Movie Log: Starter for 10

Things I often enjoy in movies: small stories about people, British settings, coming of age stories, romantic comedies. (I'm also, I've noticed recently, quite fond of stories about people living lives very much like my own at the same point in time.) So Starter for 10 was inevitably coming my way.

It's an English romantic comedy, set in 1985, about a young man in his first year at the University of Bristol, trying to get on the University Challenge team and interested in the proverbial two girls (one blonde, one brunette). It's based on a novel I haven't read by David Nicholls, and I'd bet a substantial sum of money that it's at least partially autobiographical. And, as if to completely fill up the stereotype, it takes place almost entirely during that first year of university.

It's amiable but a bit lightweight -- it never gets really funny, or really romantic, or really dramatic, but doesn't try to do so, either. It does evoke its time and place well, from hair-styles and bad fashion choices to a lot of well-chosen (and footnoted on screen, for some odd reason) New Wave music. It's a movie that tries to do a lot of things decently -- with two romances for our lead and the main plot about the University Challenge team, plus sub-plots about coming to terms with his mother's new boyfriend and about his best friend left behind at home -- instead of doing any one thing very well. In the end, it's an appealing comedy with moderate aims and decent, believeable performances. Don't expect anything deep, and you won't be disappointed.

(Side note: the host of the University Challenge TV show has such an unlikely name that I knew it, must be the real thing. But I was slightly surprised to find that, though Bamber Gascoigne -- and, I have to say, only an English family of certain means would ever hang a name like that on an innocent child -- is real, and the long-time host of University Challenge, he was played in this movie by an actor, Mark Gatiss. Why? I dunno. Gascoigne seems to still be kicking around, and was credited on IMDB as appearing in a UC special in 2006.)

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