STUDIO: HBO Home Video
MSRP: $27.98
RUNNING TIME:  96 Minutes
• Pop-Up Music Guide
• HBO First Look: Starter for 10 – behind-the-scenes featurette

The Pitch

Its one part Quiz Show, one part Almost Famous, and two parts The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

The Humans

James (Becoming Jane) McAvoy, Alice (Big Nothing) Eve, Rebecca (The Prestige) Hall, Charles (Space Truckers) Dance and Lindsay (An Ideal Husband) Duncan 

The Nutshell

Brian (McAvoy) is a small-town kid with aspirations of appearing on a quiz show one day, a fond vestige of the childhood spent with his father in front of the TV, impressing him with his random knowledge of academic subjects. Flash forward to Brian’s college years and an opportunity to appear on the show (University Challenge) he idolized as a child lies in front of him. It’s also a chance to mature as a human being as he meets two very different women in Alice and Beth, forcing himself to decide what he really wants in life, and to a learn how to push past your mistakes in the meantime.


The George Wendt real doll proved to be better in concept than execution.

The Lowdown

The coming-of-age film is something that we see all the time, but often times the material feels so familiar and well-worn that the material makes no impression on the viewer one way or the other. Luckily, thanks to some quality performances from its main cast and tight, well-paced screenwriting and direction, Starter for Ten doesn’t fall into those traps of familiarity. 


The Kinky Boots fanbase is small but passionate.

In lesser hands, this film would become just like the hundreds of other coming of age films similar to it in nature. A couple of things are working to its advantage, though: one, it being a film of the ‘80’s allows for it to have an absolutely fantastic soundtrack comprised of tunes from The Cure, The Smiths, Motorhead, Style Council, etc. Second, it has an extremely appealing lead performance from James McAvoy who proves himself to be completely capable of carrying a film on his charm alone (God help me, this encourages me to see Becoming Jane). The performances across the board are solid, actually, with the actresses being given the unenviable task of making you believe that they could both feasibly fall for a character who starts out as something of a ponce and doesn’t improve much from that position, and they both remarkably succeed. Also worthy of note is Benedict Cumberbatch as the overbearing head of the quiz team, Patrick Watts. His comedic sensibility is impeccable and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue to show up again in a higher profile comedic role based on his work here. 


Lacking the budget to include a crane shot in his student film, Lionel had to settle for a Bob Crane shot.

Perhaps most important of all in the film’s success is the fact that it doesn’t fall into tedious lesson-learning traps that could derail the film’s infectious energy. In fact, the Brian character’s arc is the type I like in films: he fucks up a lot, and the only real lesson he learns is that he will more than likely continue to fuck up, but is now aware of his fuckups and looks for forgiveness from them. He doesn’t always behave in a likable manner, and because of this he comes across as human instead of saintly. Also helpful is that the film doesn’t go down the route of Baxterizing one of his romantic interests to the point that there is no explanation for why these people should be together in the first place. Neither of the love interests are portrayed in a negative way (although the film is clearly gentling nudging you towards one of them at a certain point), and the film flourishes because of it. Too often you feel the push of the script telling you how to feel without letting the characters make it obvious through themselves, and it creates a gap between the viewer and the film. 

The film also gets lots of mileage out of its quiz show conceit. The main character isn’t a particularly brilliant or gifted one, but he has an insatiable appetite for the bettering of himself. This allows us to sympathize with him (after all he isn’t a cold reclusive genius, just a normal guy who happens to love trivia) and also gives us fodder for a third-act conclusion that is genuinely suspenseful. You grow to like these characters in spite of their flaws, and are rooting for them in the quiz show finale, a clear sign that the filmmakers have accomplished what they set out to do. And the director Tom Vaughan deserves a large bit of credit for the film working as well. He doesn’t dominate the film with references to the decade in which the film is set and instead lets the characters be the basis for the humor and not a hundred “holy shit how misguided the fashion was har har” jokes to make up for a lack of depth. He also handles the camera quite adequately and one doesn’t get the sense that this was his first go at a mainstream motion picture (although it was). It’s an assured debut on the big stage, and one hopes such entertainments could continue to get churned out on a regular basis with an effort as strong as this one.


Drive-by greetings.

It makes a good bit of sense that this picture was produced under the Tom Hanks Playtone banner, as this film remarkably similar to the tone struck by Hanks’ own enjoyable diversion of a film, That Thing You Do. They both manage to entertain almost distressingly easily, and I can easily imagine this becoming one of the entertaining staples of cable TV where people latch onto it after its theatrical run, allowing for a cult to grow. It comes solidly recommended, as it’s a pretty entertaining movie in its own right that would work fantastically as a date movie.

The Package

The cover art is kind of piss, actually. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the movie (the period it takes place in or what the film is about are both unrecognizable from these stock images) and seems to be selling the film on the power of McAvoy. The kids love their Last King of Scotland, I guess. The 5.1 audio and 16:9 transfer are both decent, although the picture looks a little muddier in the screen caps that I would’ve expected.  In terms of extras there isn’t a whole lot to see. There’s a pop-up music guide that pretty much informs you of the songs and their artists used during the duration of the picture. It’s not really worth utilizing unless you’re unable to look up a track listing of the movie’s soundtrack of your own volition. Also included is a fluff piece HBO featurette which is your standard filler, but always welcome on a disc where the other option is seeing the titles of songs appear on screen when they’re played. However, the movie is a nice bit of entertainment, so the skimpy extras aren’t too much of a detriment. Keep case.

7.5 out of 10


McAvoy’s desire to land the part of the Joker was bleeding over into his other roles.