From the producers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, comes a rollicking bittersweet comedy about British university life in the '80s. James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) stars as Brian, a working class student from Essex navigating his first year at Bristol University with a ragtag group of new friends. Brian's life-long dream is to join the team for the British quiz show University Challenge...and to pull Alice, the fittest girl on the team. Set against the backdrop of Thatcher-era Britain, defined by the music of New Order, The Cure and The Smiths, Starter for 10 is the UK's long-awaited, heartwarning and hilarious answer to the John Hughes films of the '80s.
Compared to James McAvoy's previous picture, The Last King of Scotland, this British comedy may seem trivial, but trivia has its pleasures. Produced by Tom Hanks and adapted by David Nicholls from his 2003 novel, Starter for Ten doesn't tackle major historical events, but it also takes place in the past. After a prologue establishing his childhood in provincial Essex, Brian (McAvoy) takes off for Bristol University in 1985 and immediately sets his sights on the campus quiz team. If he makes the cut, he'll get to compete on University Challenge, a show he used to watch the show with his late father, who encouraged his son's quest for knowledge. For all his book smarts, though, Brian is rather naÃ¯ve about the ways of the world, unlike his friend Spencer (Dominic Cooper, The History Boys), who remains in town. As Brian and his teammates prepare for the competition, he falls for co-eds Alice (Alice Eve) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige), struggles to repair his fraying friendship with Spencer, and confronts feelings of betrayal over his mother's new boyfriend. For the most part, Starter for Ten explores standard-issue college concerns, but with abundant wit, whimsy, and a soundtrack stuffed with Thatcher-era favorites, like the Smiths and New Order. While the resolution to Brian's romantic dilemma hardly comes as a surprise, the climactic quiz show is a nail-biter. Mostly, the film is a fine showcase for the multi-talented McAvoy, who confirms that he can handle light comedy as gracefully as dark drama. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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