Set at Bristol University in the turbulent mid-1980s, 'Starter for Ten' deals with the awkward time when many have to leave their home towns and face a daunting and unfamiliar new world.
To say that Tom Vaughan's movie, adapted by David Nicholls from his same-titled book, is solely for people who have experienced such a situation would be unjust. Though set in a Third Level environment, its themes of isolation, upheaval and romantic confusion strike a universal chord.
Brian Jackson (McAvoy) leaves his mother Julie (Tate), friends and life in a coastal Essex town behind him to further his education and - more importantly - to attempt to fulfil his ambition of appearing on the famous British television quiz show 'University Challenge'.
The move conjures up a dilemma for Brian: How does he keep true to his working-class roots while trying to adapt to a predominantly middle-class academic community?
Once he arrives in the West Country his thoughts soon, and almost inevitably, turn to women. Two women, in particular, to be precise. Alice Harbinson (Eve) and Rebecca Epstein (Hall) are worlds apart in personality, but both catch the eye of our protagonist.
The former, also a University Challenge wannabe, is intelligent and attractive, though she does display some less endearing traits. The latter is more left-of-centre, both in terms of her politics and her looks, though no less intelligent or attractive.
Alas, Brian engages in the age-old male practice of hubris. He strives to win the affections of Alice, who not only is out of league but is also completely wrong for him. All the while, Rebecca, who is far better suited to the hapless student, remains in the background. Brian recognises her charms, but his infatuation with Alice renders him oblivious to the blindingly obvious.
Fans of The Cure are in for a real treat. A New Wave-dominated soundtrack, blessed with some of the seminal bands (The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order) of that most fascinating of times in recent history, has no less than five classic tracks from the Robert Smith-fronted group.
The makers, including Hollywood big-hitters Tom Hanks and Sam Mendes who were involved in production, were greatly helped by Smith himself. Though a plan for him to write an original soundtrack for the film fell through, Smith's appreciation of the book opened a number of doors to valuable musical rights.
Strong performances by the ever-impressive James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall (who can also be seen in 'The Prestige') and comic Catherine Tate add in no small part to the enjoyment. The fact Vaughan and Nicholls met at Bristol University also gives a sense of authenticity to matters.
Though there are hints at the major events of the era, 'Starter...' does well to steer clear of indulging in political comment. This is a fine example of a pleasant tale, well told.
A claim that this is the 'great, lost British teen movie of the 1980s', however, may be stretching it a bit. It is a worthy British attempt to redress the imbalance in late high-school/early college movies that the US has nailed on many occasions. Director Tom Vaughan has cited American writer John Hughes as an inspiration. Although enjoyable, 'Starter...' barely registers on the radar of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' or 'The Breakfast Club'. It is even a good way off 'American Pie' and its first sequel.
Still, it makes you wish we all could have had a first year in college that was half as exciting. Sigh (cue audience empathy).