Fonzy: Film Review

Studio Canal
French helmer cleaves to Starbuck original but adds woman’s-eye-view.

Jose Garcia stars in wife Isabelle Doval's Gallic sperm donor comedy, a reproduction facing opposition from Vince Vaughn's "Delivery Man."

The setup to Isabelle Doval’s Fonzy may sound familiar: a young man walks into a clinic and masturbates into a plastic cup. Twenty years later he learns that he’s the biological father of more than 500 people, a large number of whom are hot on his trail. Yes, it’s the premise of Ken Scott’s Delivery Man, the Hollywood version of his own French-language box-office hit Starbuck, released nationwide this weekend.

Doval’s unashamedly opportunistic remake of the French-Canadian movie is not without its merits. However, it’s unlikely that English-speaking audiences are ready for a second subtitled version of the same story, while multiplex patrons are more likely to be drawn to the clean-cut good looks of Vince Vaughn than to the stubbly, lived-in demeanor of his Gallic counterpart Jose Garcia. Home takings for Fonzy should be fair, but international sales prospects appear stymied.

If you’ve seen Starbuck you can virtually skip this paragraph, since the basic storyline is unchanged. The original version’s David, the son of Polish immigrants, becomes Diego (Garcia), the son of Spanish immigrants. The forty-something Diego, happy-go-lucky but shiftless, works in the family business delivering fish (meat in the original). The bad news that his sperm, donated for money back in his heedless youth, has been used to sire 533 children and that 134 of them, now angry adults and adolescents, have brought a class action against the anonymous donor -- himself, code-named Fonzy -- comes just as he learns that his girlfriend Elsa (Audrey Fleurot) has become pregnant. She’s miffed with him for his persistent absences -- he seems to be more passionate about soccer than about her -- and says she plans to raise her child alone.

The movie charts Diego’s evolution as he surreptitiously tracks the progress of some of those he has involuntarily fathered -- a successful soccer-player, a would-be actor, a rebellious teenager and so on -- and occasionally intervenes in their lives, guardian-angel fashion. He gradually becomes emotionally attached to them and acquires a greater sense of personal responsibility as he faces up to the issue of whether to out himself as the prolific Fonzy.

The conflict with Elsa is easily -- too easily -- resolved. There is an unconvincing subplot involving two heavies who are pursuing Diego for an unpaid debt. Some spectators may find the overall tone too resolutely upbeat. Where the film scores, however, is in bringing a woman’s-eye-view, that of the director, to the issue of paternity, not only Diego’s past and pending but also that of his best friend, the lawyer Quentin (Lucien Jean-Baptiste), who is having to bring up three children on his own, and of his father Ramon (Gerard Hernandez), who arrived a penniless immigrant in France and is now preparing to hand over his flourishing concern to his three sons.

Doval’s handling of ideas, notably the bioethical issues raised by artificial insemination by donor, is deft, and she benefits immensely from the performance of Garcia (her husband in real life) in a role that requires him to weave between comedy and a portrayal of emotional growth.

Given the general life-affirming intention, the choice of title, a nod to the Henry Winkler character in the 1970s television series Happy Days, seems appropriate. The dialogue is crisp and unpretentious, with some decent jokes. Fonzy avoids mawkishness at least until the obligatory feel-good ending in which a touch of asperity would nevertheless have been welcome. It should optimize returns in France before the arrival of the Vaughn vehicle. Elsewhere, audiences may decide that one Starbuck reproduction is enough and choose to see it in their native language.

Production companies: Made in PM, StudioCanal, TF1 Films Production

Director: Isabelle Doval

Cast: Jose Garcia, Audrey Fleurot, Lucien Jean-Baptiste, Gerard Hernandez, Laurent Mouton, Verino

Writers: Karine de Demo, Jose Garcia, Isabelle Doval, based on the film Starbuck written by Ken Scott and Martin Petit

Producers: Alain Pancrazi, Odile McDonald

Executive Producer: Bernard Bouix

Director of Photography: Gilles Henry

Editor: Guerric Catala

Production design: Bertrand Seitz

Music: Andre Makounian, We Were Evergreen

International sales: StudioCanal

No rating, 103 minutes

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