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The Grand Seduction

Theatrical Review


Entertainment One; 113 minutes

Director: Don McKellar


Written by on May 31, 2014 




Newfoundland provides the stunning and charmingly quirky backdrop for Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction, an old-fashioned ode to small-town working class values that moonlights as a screwball comedy. McKellar, whose softly melancholic Last Night remains one of the 90’s best indie surprises, does indeed bring a seductive and beguiling touch to the film’s irascible sense of community. Ultimately, though, it’s the work of acting treasures Brendan Gleeson and Gordon Pinsent that really sell this remake of the Québécois hit Seducing Dr. Lewis.

Gleeson plays Murray French, a hopeful fisherman in the destitute fishing province of Tickle Head, who’s hanging on desperately to the town’s last good chance at survival; the opening of a petroleum factory, whose oil company contract can’t be bid upon because the town lacks a full-time doctor. Murray’s fellow booze-addled townsfolk, tired of cashing in welfare checks and coasting through an echo of a life, ask what the factory makes. Gleeson’s cheeky answer is “jobs.” but he’s got a lot of heart invested in this place and these people, and he’s also got a plan to secure the deal. It may be a silly, contrived plan that would only ever work in the fantasy world of the movies, but it’s all they’ve got.

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Enter Taylor Kitsch as Dr. Paul Lewis, whose high-life carousing gets him into trouble with the border patrol, and an unlikely connection to Ticklehead sees him trading up a jail sentence for a one month stint as the town doctor, despite the fact he’s a plastic surgeon. Gleeson and Pinsent’s crusty land-locked codger, whose inability to use public transportation has him permanently trapped in Ticklehead, go about recruiting the rest of the populace to put on an elaborate ruse to convince Paul that their town is perfectly suitable as a place to settle down in.

In one perfectly executed moment, Gleeson acknowledges Lewis’ cocaine proclivities, and adds “yeah, we’re down with that.” All manner of shenanigans follow, and there’s more than a little of the Irish indie farce, Waking Ned Devine, in the movie’s DNA, although William Forsyth’s Local Hero and Michael J. Fox’s Doc Hollywood also factor into the equation. When the presence of bungled cricket matches can’t net Paul’s affection,Gleeson introduces his daughter Kathleen (Liane Balaban) to the good doc. A few meet cutes and intimate phone sessions latter (cue flabbergasted church ladies!) and a love story has started simmering with the rest of the film’s quaint but pleasing ingredients.

I affectionately remember the original 2003 film, written by Ken Scott, who also helped pen this version, but had little interest in seeing it revisited. As it turns out, The Grand Seduction—which is less a full out ensnaring and more jovial flirting—is also enjoyable in its own right, although the inhabitants of Ticklehead feel a little less authentic here than they did the first time through. The folksy themes of hard-work and solidarity to a diminished community don’t always feel as sincere as the performances, which make the movie worth seeing. McKellar is fresher than this sort of genial meandering, but what he brings to the table is a very involving way of seeing these tired tropes with a gleam of real feeling. There’s some refurbishing of the genre going on as the director hearkens back to a cinematic spirit that went out of style well before the sixties rolled around.

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Newfoundland is chief amongst the actors here, it’s lovely and lonely pastorales providing all of the real seduction. McKellar juxtaposes these natural idylls against long-term hangers-on like Gleeson’s Murray, and the actor finds a tricky note of understated mirth to play as he goes about his good-natured swindle of Lewis. Pinsent exudes Canadian ambiance, and he’s good here in ways that extend beyond the grizzled sidekick. He and Gleeson have an unmistakable chemistry that isn’t forced and feels real enough to have been cultivated over years of shared struggle against an eked-out existence. Most surprising to my eyes was Kitsch, who has been steamrolled in recent blockbusters like Battleship and John Carter, but has been given the right role and right encouragement and taps into genuine charm that I’ve not seen from him before.

There are no surprises to life in Ticklehead, and superficially, there are no surprises in The Grand Seduction. The film’s greatest ambition is to be simply liked—not loved or adored, but just plain, good old-fashioned, liked. At this it succeeds, although underneath the Hallmark proclamations and tourist-friendly montages, McKellar hints at a shared humanity that has always pulsed through his work. He may not take many of the film’s platitudes to heart, but he stirs us to feel genuine affection for these overlooked souls. We may not feel seduced when the film ends, but we’ve been genuinely courted and in these days of largely listless comedies, that is no small thing.

The Grand Seduction is now playing in limited release.


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