DELIVERY MAN. Starring Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, and Andrzej Blumenfeld. Directed by Ken Scott. Rated M (Mature themes and infrequent coarse language). 104 min.
This comedy-drama is an American version of the French-Canadian film, "Starbuck", made in 2011 by the same Director, Ken Scott. It is about likeable, self-effacing David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn), who regards himself as "pushing back the frontiers of incompetence" and who drives a delivery truck for his family's meat business in New York. He partners Emma (Cobie Smulders), who tells him that she is pregnant.
Shortly after David learns he is about to become a father with Emma, he discovers that, due to mismanagement by a fertility clinic twenty years before, he is now father to 533 children. There is legal action by 142 of his biological children, wanting to know the identity of their real father. Short of cash at the time, David went to a sperm bank and after "donating" 693 times, he finds himself surrounded by sea of children as a result. Without saying anything to Emma, David decides to make contact with a selection of them and is determined to help them in what way he can.
Vince Vaughn fills the title role of David with freshness and warmth. The film explores the concept of parenthood across a range of unusual circumstances, and tries to do that comically. Parenthood for the children of a prolific sperm donor is very different to natural parenthood, though, and the film's analysis of the issues at times is strained to make the link. One of his children is a frustrated, aspiring actor; another is a young female drug addict; one is gay; and another is seriously disabled. David tries to help all of them without letting on he is their father. For each of the children he makes contact with, he goes out of his way to make some difference in their life, and he manages to do so.
The movie is sentimental and aims ultimately at the heart, and its humour is variable. Some situations are less comical than others, but it is hard for a movie to establish an integrated tone throughout, when 533 people are in the same predicament. There are solid laughs to be found in the comical chaos of his lawyer friend (Chris Pratt), who is trying desperately to father four unruly children, and there are serious moments to contemplate further, such as the genuine love and affection David receives from a very caring father (Andrzej Blumenfeld).
The movie, for the most part, conveys very positive messages about parenthood, and confronts head-on the dilemma of taking personal responsibility for one's actions. Along the way, it also raises some very complex issues of parenting, such as what to do about drug addiction in one's child, how to cope with severe disability, and how to take proper responsibility for relationships that matter.
At a superficial level, the movie is about a college male who has to later face the consequences of his pleasure-seeking (and money-making) days as a young man when he used sex as a way of coping At a deeper level, it communicates significant messages that deserve to be heard. It tells us how difficult it is to be a good parent, but also how important it is to try. Though the film is caught a little between the seriousness of the issues it takes up, and its comical thrust, it argues strongly overall that fathers need to accept their children for who they are, and care for them in whatever ways they can.
This is a movie that has a lot of uplifting things to say about people, and it rather sneaks up on you with the seriousness of its real intent.
Peter W Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Walt Disney Studios.
Out December 5th 2013.