McAvoy is amusing indeed in this coming-of-age comedy

Posted: March 16, 2007

I'm sure somebody in Hollywood is buying stock in James McAvoy, the Scottish actor who's quietly proving he can do just about anything.

Here in the States, we seem to be getting his movies in some kind of random order - he was memorably bitter as a rebellious paraplegic in "Rory O'Shea Was Here" a few years ago, and last year was the in-over-his-head physician to Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," holding his own against Forest Whitaker's Oscar-winning performance.

Latest to arrive is "Starter for 10," with McAvoy cast as a wide-eyed university freshman, which would make him about 10 years younger than he was in his last film.

It seems a little late for McAvoy to be doing his coming-of-age comedy, but apparently anything's possible for a guy with this kind of range. Here, he plays a working-class kid named Brian attending Bristol University - a feat, as everyone reminds him, that would have impressed his late father.

"Starter for 10" has a light touch and keeps sentiment mostly at bay, but there's a great scene of Brian quietly letting his guard down on a date, trying to talk calmly about his dad while his emotions slowly take over.

It's an impressive bit of acting, and seductive for Brian's date (Alice Eve), the campus bombshell who subsequently invites him to her parents' house for the holidays, with the promise of a hot and heavy encounter.

As is typical for coming-of-age stories, Brian is a well-meaning lad prone to mistakes, and his lust for Eve's character is meant to be one of them. She's pretty but superficial, and Brian pursues her at the expense of deeper and more substantial feelings for another girl (Rebecca Hall).

We wait for all of this to sort itself out, and for Brian to do the same - he's also dealing with declining grades, estrangement from his working-class pals, and his mother's new boyfriend.

Redemption is amusingly slow, though, for the confused Brian. The movie builds to what seems to be a predictable moment of triumph on a televised college quiz show (the source of the movie's obscure title), but the big event is a clever anticlimax that leaves us wondering if poor Brian will ever get his act together and, more importantly, kiss the right girl.

Not that he's in a position to make a bad choice. The casting director may have made a bit of a gaffe in making the brunette actually cuter than the blonde, but either would make the year of any college freshman. *

Produced by Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, Pippa Harris, directed by Tom Vaughan, written by David Nicholls.

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