Appellate Judge Dan Mancini drank six grande Americanos, then wrote this review in ten minutes. It took his editor nearly an hour to add all the punctuation marks he left out.
The true story of one man's highly caffeinated journey.
Starbucking isn't a documentary about the corporate evils of the coffee mega-chain. It's not a film that rails against market capitalism and its detrimental effect on the health of human beings, à la Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. It's a personal film about one man's quest to have a coffee at every Starbucks on the globe. Dressed perpetually in jeans, sneakers, and a black Starbucks T-shirt, and sporting a five o'clock shadow at all hours of the day, Winter is as spastic and jittery as you'd imagine for a dude who's spent nearly every second of his free time in the past decade visiting Starbucks Coffees. He's also an extremely bright if somewhat geeky guy (a computer consultant with a degree in Philosophy whose one non-Starbucks passion is competing in Scrabble tournaments) who is keenly aware of the following facts:
• his quest has no intrinsic value and offers no benefit to
Starbucking offers a documentary window into this odd man's self-inflicted Sysiphean task (according to Winter's personal web site, Starbucks opened 78 new stores in March of 2007 alone—how can he possibly keep up with the company's mighty entrepreneurial reach?). The movie is equal parts hilarity and wry introspection. Producer-director-cinematographer Bill Tangeman's camera catches Winter in full comic bloom, leaping from his car and racing across traffic to arrive at whichever Starbucks is currently in his crosshairs; dancing jigs as he waits in line; talking up the baristas when it's finally his turn to order. It also shows us a self-aware rebel hero who reveals his history of clinical depression during a college speaking gig; talks about his personal philosophy that human life in the 21st century should involve esoteric pursuits (not necessarily Starbucking) instead of a struggle to survive; has girlfriend problems (as you can imagine); finds little support from his friends or family (especially a school chum named Howard Wen, who, like Winter, exudes a kind of urbane slacker wit but has clearly grown weary of his buddy's obsession); yet manages to somehow inspire those fringe characters out there who see a nobility in his abstract pursuit of Mt. Starbucks.
The movie is compelling not because of its ideas (it has few), but because of its human drama (and comedy). Winter is neither a corporate shill trying to garner publicity for Starbucks, nor a leftist Don Quixote tilting at Starbucks as some kind of globalization windmill. In fact, Starbucks is incidental to the personal, almost spiritual, journey he's set before himself. For Winter, that he has a goal is more important than the substance of that goal. Whether or not you agree with this idea (I don't), Winter's dedication and lack of pretention make him a compelling, likable figure—at least from a distance. Tangeman's film is most magnetic when it taps into his subject's unadorned humanity. In one of Starbucking's most engrossing sequences, we see Winter trying to break his personal record of visiting 28 Starbucks in a single day. I won't spoil the surprise by telling you whether or not he succeeds, but consider this: Winter's stringent rules dictate that a "visit" entails drinking at least a 4-ounce sample of coffee. As sun sets on his marathon day of Starbucking, it's frightening to see the physical and mental effects of his having consumed nearly a gallon of caffeinated coffee over a 16-hour period. I exited the sequence convinced that Winter is a kook for putting himself through such misery, but my sympathy for the guy (however self-inflicted his suffering) and my desire to see him succeed in his meaningless endeavor are a credit to both Tangeman's film and its subject.
Starbucking is a product of pure guerilla filmmaking and looks it on DVD. The movie was shot on video in natural light. The full frame transfer is flat and exhibits wide variations in color density and black levels. Transfer-related flaws are minimal. The stereo audio track is similarly simple, but acceptable.
Supplements include seven deleted scenes that are entertaining but would have only dissipated the focus of the film had they been included in the final cut, and a truly enjoyable commentary by Tangeman and Winter.
Starbucking exceeds expectations by nurturing genuine sympathy between its audience and oddball protagonist. It is entirely engaging without being exploitative, manipulative, or pretentious. It's a thoroughly enjoyable 73-minutes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Heretic Films
• Audio Commentary by Winter and Director Bill Tangeman
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