Starring Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent, Mark Critch
Directed by Don McKellar
Written by Michael Dowse and Ken Scott
One has to acquire a taste for eccentric dramedies that are populated by infectious quirky characters, a far-fetching premise, gentle-minded absurdity and an appreciation for the small-scale cinema experience to embrace the giddy gumption of director Don McKellar’s odd yet highly-spirited The Grand Seduction. Breezy, mildly confusing and charmingly off-kilter The Grand Seduction is an English-language Canadian film that tickles the funnybone in its cheeky conviction detailing the desperate economical times of a financially-strapped Newfoundland fishing village.
Now American television audiences in particular may inevitably view the witty Seduction as a knockoff to the critically-acclaimed early 1990’s series Northern Exposure where the off-base, fish-out-of-the-water quirks and kooky culture shock of revolving personalities co-existing in a quaint scenic hamlet may seem grudgingly familiar. Well if that is the case then The Grand Seduction is guilty as charged. Nevertheless, McKellar’s inviting narrative still is a treasure to behold with its spry shenanigans and willingness to convey an impish storyline that is subtly naughty and engaging.
Based on the 2003 French-Canadian film Le Grande Seduction (a.k.a. Seducing Doctor Lewis), McKellar and his screenwriters Michael Dowse and Ken Scott somehow manage to incorporate some distinction and freshness from the original blueprint and allow The Grand Seduction to wallow in its own low-key topsy-turvy merits.
In many ways Seduction comes off as disheartening and distant given the plight of its disillusioned townsfolk lost in a semi-defeatist stupor of drunken detachment and broken dreams. There was a time generations ago when the men were proud to rise in the wee hours of the morning looking forward to a hard day’s work as a payday meant something special in the harbor village of Tickle Cove situated in northeastern Canada. This feeling of personal achievement was a moral and prideful boost to the working men and the families that relied on their bread-winning prowess.
Enter the nowadays predicament of the Tickle Cove existence that seems centuries away from when work was bountiful and clocking in at the workplace was automatically instinctive. Now hard times have come to Tickle Cove–at least within the last decade anyway–and the majority of the residents are on the dole because the fishing industry has collapsed and their are no steady jobs to accommodate the needy families needing the financial push and stability. So relying on welfare checks to arrive in keeping the struggling family unit afloat and drowning in drinking, depressing and doubt has almost become a fashionable norm in the impoverished Tickle Cove environment. When will the down-spiraling ever end for this flustered fishing community on the brink of monetary disaster?
Alas, there is some hopeful light at the end of the tunnel for the suffering citizens and their continuous fiscal woes. When a petroleum processing plant entertains the idea of setting up shop in Tickle Cove this could single-handily revive the fishing village’s economy and ease the reliance on public assistance while restoring some dignity. Of course the stipulation in bringing this thriving business to town rests on whether or not Tickle Cove is able to have a physician on call when residing in Tickle Cove. So basically if no doctor is available then the deal is cancelled and the plant will relocate elsewhere. This presents a problem indeed.
The village’s mayor Murray (veteran actor Brendan Gleeson) needs to think fast as his community is looking for him to secure the profitable plant within the ranks of his weary residents. When a visiting Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) decides to stay for a one-month period to unwind in the Tickle Cove atmosphere before returning to the big city Murray and his cronies must try to convince the roguish medical hotshot to stick around long enough to appease the plant officials to permanently settle down in Tickle Cove. And so “the grand seduction” is put in place as Murray stages all sorts of favorable incidents for Lewis that caters to the young doctor’s good graces. Hopefully all the falsely orchestrated chummy reception works its magic because the light-hearted deception depends on the town’s future for stability.
In the course of sucking up to Dr. Lewis the sneaky tactics such as eavesdropping on his phone conversations (so they can exploit his interests/hobbies) and passing the town off as cricket enthusiasts (Lewis’s beloved sport activity of choice) is very instrumental in stroking the doctor’s ego and catering to his every whim. In fact, Murray goes so far as to label Lewis “the son he never had” (Lewis may in fact be the symbolic replacement for Murray’s deceased son from years past). There is probably genuine affection that Murray actually has for the privileged medicine man Lewis and it takes the unctuous conspiracy of the anxious town to cultivate the bonding.
The Grand Seduction is a winning farce laced with elements of sophistication, old-time slapstick and scattered rambunctiousness. The warmth and staging of all the scams, schemes and ruses makes for a suitable comedy-drama that triggers a sense of committed playfulness. Plus, who cannot relate to the financial setbacks that cripple working people every day? Whether it be a Canadian small town fishing enclave or an American major city undergoing unemployment strife The Grand Seduction has its hands on the pulse with some contemplative urgency mixed in with inspired, free-for-all chuckles.
Gleeson’s Murray is a capable pitchman in the slickest order as he skillfully sells some “fake merchandise” in the guise of feel-good politics. The con game is Murray’s selective tool and this is the one time when a local politician’s crooked deeds is in the best interest of his dismayed constituents. Kitsch, who has previously labored in action-packed duds (remember John Carter anyone?), is quite tolerable as the clueless physician whose lucky breaks in life contrast drastically to the poor observers that need him as their mandatory savior. Gordon Pinsent is an absolute delight as Murray’s sidekick charmer. Also, Liane Balaban’s pretty postal worker Kathleen is a scream as the “eye candy” bait that is advised to lure the handsome doctor into their web of conniving.
The humble-style hedonism that hovers over the terrain at Tickle Cove gives way to its own kind of affable seduction.