Movie Review by Siobhan Daly
Starring: James McAvoy, Alive Eve, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Tate, Dominic Cooper
Director: Tom Vaughan
STARTER FOR TEN is the latest film to try and capitalise on the international passion for Brit rom-coms. Based on the novel by David Nicholls who also adapted it for screen, it focuses on the life and loves of Brian Jackson (James McAvoy), a young boy from the wrong side of the academic tracks trying to navigate the tempestuous trials of adolescence and university life during the mid-1980s.
As a student in his first year at Bristol University, Brian is set for academic success but he has more to contend with than just the intricacies of Shakespeare. The boy-done-good from Essex is thrown out of his comfortable world living at home with Mum (played with wonderful comic timing by Catherine Tate) into an obligatory Withnail and I style Uni houseshare and the awkwardness of a whole new life.
Brian studiously tries out for the University Challenge team, only to find himself with a new problem – women. Alice Harbinson (Alice Eve) is a posh, dizzy blonde that Brian inexplicably falls for. Preferring, like many teenage boys before him, looks over content, he obliviously blunders his way past the understatedly pretty political campaigner, Molly Ringwald-esque, Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall). Along the way to true love, he contends with class issues, betrayal and a lot of self-learning. Will he end up with the right girl? Will he learn the difference between knowledge and wisdom
James McAvoy outacts everyone whenever he is on screen. The only actor who could hold their own against him was Catherine Tate and even distinguished actors Charles Dance and Lindsey Duncan put in surprisingly limp performances. McAvoy is an outstanding talent who is adorable, winning and awkward without being ingratiating or irritating. He handles the comic and dramatic moments his role demands with equal finesse and ability. Perhaps it is unfortunate for other members of the cast to have to act alongside such a versatile and brilliant thesp, highlighting their shortcomings more than might have happened otherwise. Particularly cringingly hammy acting came from Benedict Cumberbatch as Bristol’s University Challenge team captain Patrick and Alice Eve is also startlingly lacklustre and dull as Brian’s love interest, relying rather on her pout than any semblance of talent to flounder through this film. Mark Gatiss puts in a fantastic cameo as University Challenge host Bamber Gascoigne, while Dominic Cooper is also noteworthy as Spencer, Brian’s rough-and-ready friend from back home who embarrasses him in front of his more educated friends and sleeps with his love interest.
STARTER FOR TEN may aspire towards the lofty heights of NOTTING HILL or FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL but it falls short of its potential, carried only by James McAvoy’s great performance. It is an enjoyable film, rather like a cross between a John Hughes production such as THE BREAKFAST CLUB and the 80s adolescent rite of passage flick GREGORY’S GIRL, but one which is unlikely to ever be a classic.