Monday, November 20, 2006

STARTER FOR TEN - 80s nostalgia masks formulaic bilge

STARTER FOR TEN is woefully formulaic coming-of-age romantic-comedy. Decent but naive working-class boy makes it to pinnacle of academe (Bristol(!) and University Challenge TV quiz programme). On the way he falls for a supposedly sophisticated middle class girl who uses him shamelessly. He then realises he loves the more worthwhile but less fit activist chick. Blah blah blah.

What saves STARTER FOR TEN from utter mediocrity is the sheer likeability of lead actor,
James McAvoy who is suitably at right-angles with the in-crowd. But the biggest reason to see this film, and the only reason you might make it through with a smile on your face, is some class 1980s nostalgia. The movie is set in Britain in the early 80s - a time of deep political polarisation, mass unemployment and awesome pop music and the movie does well to capture the spirit of the times. This is achieved by means of an outstanding sound-track, some brilliantly well-observed production design and by giving Brian some mates who are stuck at home in Essex being indicted for dole fraud. Best of all, a lot of the drama is played out against the backdrop of the TV programme University Challenge. For non-UK readers, University Challenge is a British quiz show that pits teams of four from different universities against each other answeringly fiendlishly obscure general knowledge questions. The comedy part is that Oxford and Cambridge enter not as Universities but as individual colleges. Back in the 1980s the programme was hosted by cult-presenter Bamber Gascgoine, and part of the joy of this film is seeing Bamber Gascgoine brought back to the screen.

So, much like
SIXTY SIX, STARTER FOR TEN is a harmless and mildly entertaining comic drama, on its own terms. But I can only really recommend it for the generation that got drunk for the first time to New Order....

SIXTY SIX is on release in the UK. It opens in the US on February 16th 2007.

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