out of Five
Running time: 96
Enjoyably fluffy romantic comedy with a witty script, an 80s-tastic soundtrack and a superb comic performance from James McAvoy.
What's it all about?
Set in 1985, the film stars James McAvoy as Brian, a brainy, working-class boy who leaves his best friends Spencer and Tone (Dominic Cooper and James Corden, coincidentally both from The History
Boys) behind when he goes off to Bristol University. With a love of quizzes inherited from his late father, Brian jumps at the chance to join the University Challenge quiz team, especially if it means spending time with his attractive teammate Alice (Alice Eve).
However, things don't quite go according to plan and Brian finds himself clashing with snooty team captain Patrick (Benedict
Cumberbatch) and on the receiving end of a disastrous visit from Spencer. And as if that wasn't bad enough, he's torn between his lust for Alice and his developing feelings for student activist Rebecca (rising British star Rebecca Hall, who's also in The Prestige).
McAvoy makes a charming, likeable lead and delivers a superb comic performance, particularly during the romantic scenes. Physically, he does an astonishing job – he actually looks and behaves like he's 18 years old.
There's also strong support from Benedict Cumberbatch (whose broadly comic character gets most of the laughs) and a hilarious, if all-too-brief turn from Mark Gatiss as Bamber Gascoigne. Hall and Eve are both extremely sexy in interestingly different ways and there's a pair of scene-stealing cameos from Charles Dance and Lindsay Duncan as Alice's parents.
The script is witty and the excellent dialogue sounds natural and unforced, perfectly capturing the embarrassment of awkward conversations. On top of that, the fabulous, 80s-tastic soundtrack is bound to provoke a few nostalgic smiles.
The only downside is that the film is completely predictable, with the exception of an unusual, cliche-defying twist that almost backfires.
Predictability aside, Starter For Ten is an enjoyable, frequently hilarious romcom with superb comic performances.