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Friday, March 9, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Starter for 10" | Torn between two coeds in Thatcher's England

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Starter for 10," with James McAvoy, Alice Eve, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Tate, Dominic Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch. Directed by Tom Vaughan, from a screenplay by David Nicholls, based on his novel. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and a scene of drug use. Uptown, Metro.

Never surprising but always agreeable, Tom Vaughan's "Starter for 10" bops along like a hummable tune. It's a very precise sort of teen movie: an early-college British romantic comedy set in 1985, focusing on that point in life when 18-year-olds stretch their wings and pretend to be grown-ups yet still feel dismayed when, upon visiting home, they find that life has gone on without them.

Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) is just such a teenager, trying on experiences the same way he tries on his late father's blazer, wondering if he can pull it off. A working-class kid from Essex, Brian arrives at Bristol University brimming with confidence and important life questions (among them: "I want to know why people actually like jazz") yet decidedly uncool. At a party by himself, trying to join in, he dances a bit and you cringe for him; his awkward limbs seem to all be speaking different languages.

Finding a niche, he joins the team for University Challenge, a television team quiz show for college students, where he meets the lovely Alice (Alice Eve). But there's another girl on the horizon: opinionated, politically conscious Rebecca (Rebecca Hall of "The Prestige"), who's always leading a rally or passing out leaflets. Besotted with Alice, drawn to Rebecca, coping with the unwelcome fact that his mother (Catherine Tate) appears to be shacking up with the Mr. Whippy ice-cream man and determined to make his mark on the quiz team, Brian finally learns some valuable lessons; by the end, he's not yet a man, but he's on his way.

That's usually how this sort of movie runs, and indeed you'll be able to predict many of the movie's twists, including which girl will eventually be the recipient of Brian's goofy smiles. But "Starter for 10" has charm to spare and an irresistible breeziness to its storytelling. McAvoy, after a successful date with Alice, does a hoppy, prancing dance in a courtyard that seems a perfect nonverbal description of youth. And ultimately, it does convey some wisdom about growing up. Brian's mum, comforting him after a monumental screw-up, reminds him that the most important thing isn't the mistake. "It's what you do next," she says, "that matters."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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