I had to laugh when I was reading the press notes for STARTER FOR 10, an enjoyable analogy for the television quiz show that is at the heart of the piece, the notes (and therefore some of the reviews) make reference to Jeopardy! Well, in fact University Challenge, the real-life show within this movie, was actually based on the American television program College Bowl, which left the airwaves in 1970 but continues to exist.
The film, adapted by David Nicholls from his first novel of the same name (originally published in the US as A Question of Attraction), centers on Brian Jackson (James McAvoy), a bright working class kid who is obsessed with the TV quiz show. Set in the mid-1980s, STARTER FOR 10 recreates the period fairly faithfully. Brian arrives at the University of Bristol and promptly meets two women who are as different as night and day. Rebecca Epstein (Rebecca Hall, who was seen as Christian Bale's wife in THE PRESTIGE) is a proto-feminist who participates in campus rallies. She's darkly attractive and appeals to Brian's intellectual side. Then there's Alice Harinson (Eve Best), a posh blonde who clearly appeals to Brian's baser instincts. That Alice is also interested in participating on the University Challenge team only makes her more appealing.
Under Tom Vaughan's solid direction, the cast does yeoman work and elevates this genial romantic comedy to a higher level. In addition to a strong anchor performance from McAvoy (who is fast becoming one of the UK's best actors), there's terrific support from Catherine Tate as Brian's mother, Dominic Cooper (last seen in THE HISTORY BOYS) as Brian's unemployed mate Spencer, and Benedict Cumberbatch (of AMAZING GRACE) as the uptight leader of the school's quiz team. Mark Gatiss does a credible job as Bamber Gascoigne, the host of University Challenge.
STARTER FOR 10 proves to be an enjoyable if lightweight entertainment. Although it's pretty clear which young lady Brian should end up with, it's fun watching him figure it out for himself.
Rating: B- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and a scene of drug use Running time: 96 mins.