Saturday, November 16, 2013

Film Review: Delivery Man

I must state my prejudice at the outset: I am a Vince Vaughn fan.  I think he is one of the funniest and most naturally charming actors working today.  That doesn't mean that all his movies are good.  I hated The Break-Up and was lukewarm on The Internship.  But I found myself very much enjoying Delivery Man.

The story is about a near-middle-age screw up Dave Wozniak who finds out that due to a screw up, sperm that he had donated years ago was responsible for the birth of 533 kids.  Many of those kids sue the clinic to find out the true identity of their biological father, who donated under the pseudonym "Starbuck."  Against the advice of his best friend and lawyer Brett (an hilarious Chris Pratt) he begins to look into the lives of his children and find ways to help them, often to very funny ends.

And the movie is funny.  There were at least 2 or 3 big bursts of laughter that Delivery Man drew out of me.  But about halfway through the movie, "Starbuck's" involvement in his kids lives becomes even deeper.  He is drawn in an unforeseen way to the circle of "The Starbuck Children."  What struck me was that writer director Ken Scott (who wrote and directed the movie Starbuck, on which Delivery Man is based), decides to start trading laughs for pathos.  It was an interesting economy to see how and where he would take a scene, either to a place of silly humor or a place of emotional drama.

That isn't to say that the movie is bait and switch where you think you are getting a comedy, but instead are getting a drama.  The movie is a comedy and it remains one throughout the film.  But Scott makes several conscious choices to divert away from the comedic in order to pull at the heartstrings.  Sometimes it goes a little too dramatic.  There is a subplot about a loan shark debt (which is important to the story) and a child who is a drug addict.  But the movie doesn't stay long in some sort of permanent shadow.  Delivery Man could have been a funnier movie, but I think Scott's choices makes it a better movie.

This is one of Vaughn's best performances in a while.  He is still his charming self, which is important because you have to like this scamming screw up from the start.  But when the gravity of his situation comes to him and the responsibilities that this entails, Vaughn brings a great deal of sincerity and maturity to his character.  Vaughn has always been an excellent dramatic actor; his dramas unfortunately don't do well.  Here, he gets to spread his dramatic wings a little more and it works well juxtaposed to his comedy.

A word must also be made about Christ Pratt, who is understandably an up-and-coming star.  It takes someone with a lot of comedic skill to keep up with Vaughn and Pratt does fantastic and has some of the biggest laughs of the movie.  Like Vaughn, he plays the well-intentioned screw-up to a T.

As a Catholic, I loved all of the religious imagery in the film.  Scott makes subtle nods to the faith of the family.  When Dave's father asks them to pray, he children complain, but it doesn't take away from the very religious atmosphere.  In another scene Dave visits a religious nursing home and the subtle Catholic imagery added a strong emotional layer to the scenes.  There is one off-hand abortion joke that was off-putting, but done so deadpan that it didn't sting as much as it could have.

And while the movie does not come out and condemn donations to fertility clinics (in fact at one point Pratt's character implies their importance), there are two things I noted:

1.  The movie underscores the reality of what a donation means.  I once had a student ask me why it was okay to donate blood but not make a donation to a fertility clinic.  The reason I said is that when you donate there, the result will be you becoming a father of a child for all eternity.  Forever and ever you are that child's father.  In Delivery Man, the story removes that separation and David is confronted with the real consequence of that choice.  I am a big fan of stories that show characters accepting and dealing with the consequences of their actions instead of avoiding them.

2.  Fathers are important.  Wholly absent from the movie are any of the mothers of the "Starbuck Children."  They are not present.  And all of the children he encounters have some kind of need, be it emotional, financial, or whatnot.  Whether the movie intends to or not, it is a critique of a culture that encourages women to have children without husbands.  Because then those children are raised without fathers.  And that absence is sorely felt in the "Starbuck Children."  And it is an absence that can only be filled by a father.

Delivery Man made me laugh and it made me a little happier.  If that is your idea of a good time at the movies, I would check it out.

Delivery Man premieres November 22.

4 out of 5 stars.

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