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No Lion, No Witch, Awesome Wardrobe

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 16, 2006 7:47PM


The last time we saw James McAvoy, he was Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia. There was something about that half-human, half-goat thing (combined with his angelic curls and baby blue eyes) that gave us some not-very-rated-PG thoughts. Thus we are thrilled to see Mr. McAvoy return to the screen in Starter for Ten, a comedy from the UK showing as part of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Brian has just gotten into Bristol University, and in addition to juggling awkward romances with blonde babe Alice and witty political activist Rebecca, he's also angling for a spot on the popular TV quiz show "University Challenge." Oh, and the year is 1985. Okay, so right now you're probably thinking, "Wait, wasn't that some John Hughes film?" We admit the plot sounds like a rehash; however, an incredibly capable cast, characters that feel like real people instead of "types," and some very atmospheric production design won us over. What can we say? We're a sucker for 80s nostalgia. And what films have you seen recently that have dialog like, "That's her! She's the girl over there in the leotard!" Yes: layers, leggings, and lots of scarves-draped-over-denim are all in full display here.

It's certainly mainstream (it was co-produced by Tom Hanks), but the kind of thoughtful, genuinely enjoyable mainstream movie that seems in short supply these days. Great comedy with a real heart is harder than you think! That's why Sandra Bullock isn't really doing the rom-com thing anymore. Our only real complaint concerns some anachronisms, including some tunes on the soundtrack that date from after 1986. Tsk tsk, sloppy. Plus, we counted no less than five Cure songs, which we feel is a bit overboard (although we have friends who feel that when it comes to the Cure there's no such thing as overboard).

This is a film that has "date movie" written all over it, and we mean that in the best possible way. You'll be bonding with college memory total recall before the credits roll.

Starter for Ten screens this Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Landmark Century.