Thatcherism, Bristol, and University Challenge. Three quintessentially British things that I hate. They are also the backdrop for Starter for 10, the James McAvoy-led British ensemble that wishes to dedicate much of its running time to the perky romance of Brian Jackson (McAvoy) and anyone within his field of view. Deriving its title from the starting question of University Challenge, it is hard not to be taken off on this journey through old-school university days, however fractured they may appear. Compare this to the work Benedict Cumberbatch and McAvoy offer audiences now. The times have most certainly changed for the two of them. What has stayed the same, though, are the backdrops of social and economic strife.
Starter for 10 doesn’t engage with it all that much, but the characters are proactive in the fight against injustice. They are not given specifics, but they all picket and promise to fight back against this or support that. There’s no time for specifics in the case of Jackson and company. That has bled through into the modern era of living, to some degree. Jackson protests and pickets not because he has any stake in the matter, but because he is infatuated by a girl. He has vested interests in where he wants to go and will use injustice as a stepping stone to get there. Generalities are presented about the rich getting richer and, as ever, the poor getting shafted. What else is new? There is no solution offered, just an echoing of the problems, as vague as they may be. Echo away, though, for as long as the cast is interesting and the effective three-act structure is present, then how bad can it be? McAvoy certainly has his moments; however, the film is struck down underwhelming lack of comedy. Some of it works, but the majority of it doesn’t. Working or not, it all revolves around Jackson and the many nice character relationships he presents.
Jackson is a certainly interesting figure, capturing a broad range of emotions rather well, McAvoy does well in his leading role. As his opening narration of his childhood states, “I want to know about Plato and Newton, Tolstoy and Bob Dylan.” He and I share the same hopes and dreams but go about different ways of reaching such a goal. I, for one, do not hang around James Corden. Here is the worst performance of the film, no surprise there that it comes from the man dressed like Meat Loaf. Tone (Corden) is uninteresting, but many of the characters are as well. He embodies many of the problems with the script and styling of these supporting players. A pop culture reference or whingy complaint are the only two moods Tone finds himself in.
Still, at least Blue Monday and The Cure are on the soundtrack. Who’d have thought Robert Smith would have collated enough variety in his songs to capture every set emotion of the light comedy-drama? “A bit small, isn’t it?” Jackson says as he enters his dormitory room, one that is bigger than any of the rooms I stayed in whilst at university. I went from a room with a broken window to a room with a broken everything over the course of three years and two moves. With these odd eccentrics and an out of place McAvoy, Starter for 10 starts to clutch at straws from its early stages and relies rather heavily on its soundtrack and booze-fuelled culture. It is fine at times, fun even, but never expresses a tone or expression that goes beyond amicable. Sometimes that is just what you need, but Starter for 10 isn’t quite the place to find it. It has dated about as well as Thatcherism. Not well at all, for those not clicked into the political sphere. Cute and predictable, but lacking in the humour and earnest romance that make these British flashbacks so endearing.