Film Review: ‘The Grand Seduction’

'The Grand Seduction' Review: A Bland

This English-language remake of 'Seducing Dr. Lewis' is middlebrow comedy at its blandest.

“Life was better in the good ol’ days” is the message behind “The Grand Seduction,” when work gave men pride, environmentalism hadn’t entered the language, and isolated communities were bulwarks against troubling multiculturalism. Adapted from the French-Canadian pic “Seducing Dr. Lewis,” about a depressed town that needs to convince a doctor to take up residence so a factory can move in, this is middlebrow comedy at its blandest, upholding a viewpoint worthy of the Tea Party’s gold seal. An anticipated late-May home release will likely see good returns, but further south, appeal will be limited to blue-rinsers.

The action has been seamlessly transposed from the original’s Quebec to the fictional Newfoundland harbor of Tickle Head, a once-happy place of hard-working fishermen. “Life was a thing of beauty,” opines Murray (Brendan Gleeson) in voiceover, recalling an idyllic childhood that went to pot when the bottom fell out of the fisheries market. Rather than proudly marching down to their dinghies, the menfolk now only move to pick up welfare checks.

Hope for a new tomorrow comes when the community puts in a bid to host a petrochemical byproduct-repurposing facility. If built, it could employ everyone, but there’s one hitch: They need to prove they have a resident doctor. Getting an outsider to relocate to such a remote locale is tough, but then Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) is caught with a small amount of cocaine as he’s flying out of St. John’s, and a wily customs officer makes a deal: no charges if he comes to Tickle Head for one month. It’s the residents’ job to make sure he loves the place so much he won’t want to leave.

Murray takes charge. Houses have to be spruced up, everyone has to learn to play cricket (Lewis is a cricket fanatic), and the one eatery adds lamb dhansak, his favorite dish, to their menu. Vera (Mary Walsh) the phone operator listens in on the doctor’s conversations to ensure residents can anticipate his every wish and address any complaint. Only the postal lady, Kathleen (Liane Balaban) — also the sole attractive resident close to Lewis’ age — isn’t thrilled, finding the good doctor too confident of his good looks.

Kathleen is also the only person who expresses any concern about a petrochemical facility — whose reps are shysters — setting up shop in the idyllic harbor. It’s not that her voice is drowned out; the script barely allows her to express an opinion, which is heard once and then never again. “The Grand Seduction” is the polar opposite of Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land,” since here the big corporation is the savior and pollution is as silly an afterthought as global warming. Bring on the chemicals!

Considerably more problematic is the way McKellar juxtaposes the tranquil beauty of the harbor with brief, tightly cropped glimpses of St. John’s. Urban life is imagined as a pressure cooker of newfangled notions and stress, and within the few frames can be seen blacks and Indians. Meanwhile, in peaceful Tickle Head, whitebread is the only flavor, and this comforting homogeneity means that outside ideas and outside people — except those we want — are kept away. While it’s unlikely that it was a conscious decision, this unfortunate contrast is hard to miss, reinforcing the feeling that “The Grand Seduction” will be dangerously seductive to nostalgia-prone Caucasians viewing harmony as a question of separation rather than integration.

Only a curmudgeon would deny the pic its moments of clean, wholly predictable fun (Walsh is especially enjoyable), and the actors, particularly Gleeson, tackle their regional accents with gusto. Douglas Koch, who’s lensed for McKellar on “Last Night,” TV’s “Sensitive Skin” and others, gets great mileage out of the beauty of Newfoundland’s Trinity Bay. Music is largely Irish-inflected, suitable given the region’s strong Gaelic roots. Both the original pic and this remake share producer Roger Frappier.

Film Review: 'The Grand Seduction'

Reviewed at Turin Film Festival (A Moveable Feast), Nov. 25, 2013. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Gala Presentations.) Running time: 112 MIN.

Production

(Canada) An Entertainment One release of a Max Films, Morag Loves Company production, with the participation of Telefilm Canada. (International sales: Voltage Pictures, Los Angeles.) Produced by Roger Frappier, Barbara Doran. Executive producers, Jeff Sackman, Joe Iacono, Mark Slone.

Crew

Directed by Don McKellar. Screenplay, Ken Scott, Michael Dowse, based on the film “Seducing Dr. Lewis” by Jean-Francois Pouliot. Camera (color), Douglas Koch; editor, Dominique Fortin; music, Paul-Etienne Cote, Maxime Barzel, Francois-Pierre Lue; production designer, Guy Lalande; art director, Francois Senecal; costume designer, Denis Sperdouklis; sound (Dolby Digital), Jean Camden, Marcel Pothier, Pierre-Jules Audet, Luc Boudrias; visual effects supervisor, Hugo Leveille; assistant director, Pierre Magny; casting, Lucie Robitaille, Heidi Levitt.

With

Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban, Mark Critch, Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones.

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  1. Pat beaty says:

    Why are we supposed to feel qulity for wanting to live among our own kind. Keep you filthy crime ridden cities.
    Your shallow media controlled lives are part of the moral decline we are experiencing now. The grand subduction was a adorable honest film unlike most modern films with no thoughtful dialoge and too much mindless.special effects.

  2. Sean Penney says:

    I’m a Newfoundlander and was born about 30km from the harbour where The Grand Seduction was filmed. Finding doctors to operate family clinics in rural Newfoundland remains a very real problem. The reason so few non-white faces are seen is simply because Newfoundland has a very homogeneous population that is about 98% Irish-English-Scottish stock. Most potential immigrants prefer the far warmer climate of mainland Canada and the familiarity of entrenched ethnic populations found within the major metropolitan areas. Our economy is in transition and unemployment in rural Newfoundland averages around 14%, but the offshore oil industry, travel & tourism, and even the shrimp and crab fisheries have contributed to turning Newfoundland into a “have” province. At the same time, there remains many of those “salt-of-the-earth” types inhabiting the many small harbours, tickles and bights that make up our 10,000 kms of shoreline.

  3. Sarah says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with this review. The film does not set out to be a champion of the oil business, it is simply depicting a realistic situation faced by many communities throughout Canada who no longer have the ability to rely on local natural resources. Yes, it would have been “nice” if the community would have been able to find some cleaner solution to their quagmire, but it’s simply not that simple. I’ve worked in many small communities in British Columbia posed with a very similar question of whether to cling to the past and most likely dissolve, or work within the existing system and try to survive. Right or wrong, these situations are very real, and to criticize McKellar for depicting such a situation in a realistic manner does not only smack of environmental elitism, but it is also spoken from a very high horse. And in case the reviewer hasn’t been to small communities in Canada, this is what they look like. Big cities are very multicultural, and small ones are typically quite homogeneous. This is supposed to be a realistic portrayal, not an idealized picture of how we’d like things to be. Maybe if someone in the states picks this up, they’ll insert some token racial diversity and a feel-good ending where the oil industry is defeated (“We’re doing tidal energy!”). But until then, I, and the packed theatre that I watched this with at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, will treasure the roaring laughter and the beautiful tiny harbour.

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