By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Grand Seduction isn’t quite grand, but it is seductive.
It’s a Canadian comedy about small-town community and economic hardship, an English-language remake of the 2003 French-Canadian film Seducing Doctor Lewis.
We’re in the small Newfoundland harbor (no one’s allowed to call it a village) of Tickle Head — a fictional location based on the real-life Tickle Cove — where the dying fish industry has dried up and ruined the local economy.
Consequently, most of the 120 residents are on welfare and Tickle Head is in desperate need of a doctor, but not because folks need medical help or looking after.
It’s because, at an interested oil company’s insistence, they need a resident physician to open a practice if they hope to land a contract to secure a factory -– a petrochemical byproduct repurposing facility, if you must know — that they must have if they are to escape financial collapse.
Brendan Gleeson plays local fisherman Murray French, the acting mayor, who takes it upon himself to lead a search for a candidate, suitable or not. At his side as an ornery partner-in-crime is his best friend, played by Gordon Pinsent.
He finds one in Dr. Paul Lewis, a plastic surgeon played by Taylor Kitsch, a young doctor and big city bad boy busted at the airport by the harbor’s former mayor for cocaine possession.
That’s why he has no choice but to agree to take a one-month gig as Tickle Head’s temporary doctor.
Now the inhabitants have thirty days in which to convince (that is, con; forget the vince) Dr. Lewis to settle down and live in Tickle Head.
So they conspire to work a harborwide charade and spin a web of lies to make their home town seem a paradise to their newest resident.
And if that means tapping his phone and dropping money on the ground for him to find, and making sure the fish are biting, dead or alive, when he goes fishing, so be it.
And if that means moving folks around so the population appears greater than it actually is, and staging a cricket game even though no one knows the rules or how to play, so be it.
And if that means trying to talk an attractive but standoffish young woman (played by Liane Balaban) into acting a bit more flirtatious with the good doctor than she has a mind to, well, so be it.
Canadian actor-turned-director Don McKellar (Last Night, Childstar), working from a desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures script by Ken Scott and Michael Dowse, takes full advantage of the gorgeous Newfoundland scenery. Which, ironically works against the narrative.
That is, if we in the audience are admiring how scenic the location is, then we’re not as convinced or moved if and when the duped doctor decides to stay here. After all, why wouldn’t he? Come to think of it, why wouldn’t anyone?
McKellar isn’t chasing knee-slapping hilarity as much as collecting knowing smiles and appreciative chuckles with the film’s whimsical charm. Which he does. But he doesn’t follow through sufficiently on the film’s plot points or themes in the third act to stop the ending from seeming abrupt or premature.
Ultimately, despite offering consistently pleasant viewing, there’s a feeling of incompleteness that stops the film from satisfying to the degree that other films with similar narratives -– Local Hero and Doc Hollywood come to mind –- have managed to do.
However, the director gets affable, watchable work from three actors we don’t usually think of in terms of light comedy: old pros Gleeson and Pinsent make it look easy, and Kitsch, whose big-screen career has had a bumpy start, contributes a natural and relaxed turn that immediately widens his range.
So we’ll dupe 2½ stars out of 4 for The Grand Seduction, an overwrought title for a low-key charmer.