In the pantheon of cutesy crowd-pleasers about the wily eccentrics of a misbegotten hamlet rallying together to overcome a dramatic obstacle, Jean-Francois Pouliot’s “Seducing Doctor Lewis” is a step or two below the likes of “The Full Monty” and “Waking Ned Devine.” Though harmless and amusing, this Quebecois comedy set in an impoverished fishing village is a bit too festooned with provincial humor and a bit too short on memorable perfs or feel-good climaxes to break out commercially beyond French-speaking Canadian territories (where it opens July 11). But judging from the warm reception of its Cannes audiences (where it was the closing night selection of the Directors Fortnight sidebar), other fest invites should be forthcoming for this amiable item en route to ancillary.
An amusing prologue photographed with a glistening storybook texture introduces the town of Sainte-Marie-La-Mauderne as the prosperous fishing community it once was. Switching to the present day, pic shows the denizens of Sainte-Marie on welfare in an era that has brought hard times to the independent fisherman. The only hope would appear to be a plastics firm that has contemplated opening a plant in the center of town. But there’s a catch: in order to meet the specifications issued by the factory, the town must hire a doctor and get him to agree to sign on for afive-year stay. So, under the questionably intrepid guidance of mayor Germain (Raymond Bouchard), flyers advertising the job opening are disseminated. There’s a bite from a young Montreal physician (David Boutin), and the “grand seduction” of pic’s French-language title really begins.
Nervous that their only perspective candidate may balk at the unsophisticated airs of their cozy backwater, Germain and the locals tap Lewis’ phone in order to learn his preferences, and set about re-making Sainte-Marie in that image. Hockey fanatics become cricket enthusiasts (Lewis’ favorite sport), the town restaurant takes to presenting a Beef Stroganoff festival (Lewis’ favorite meal) and the women take to wearing open-toed shoes (Lewis’ favorite fetish).
Ken Scott’s formulaic screenplay introduces additional contrivances, concerning things the town must prove to the plastics company in order to secure the factory. This leads to pic’s funniest scene, in which Germain must convince a factory rep the town’s population is double what it actually is. Despite all the plotting, at 108 minutes, “Seducing Doctor Lewis” wears out its welcome some 20 minutes or so before the end, and leaves the nagging sensation that all this has been done before, and better.
Though Bouchard’s richly textured performance as a man driven by an indomitable sense of dignity and self-worth is the foundation upon which the film is built, the supporting cast largely fails to flesh out their characters with the same kind of detail. And Boutin is only adequate as the title character. Pouliot’s direction, while generally confident, strives too hard to show how likable and charming the movie is, when viewers might be better off finding it so on their own.
Jean-Marie Benoit’s stirring musical score, with its memorable main theme, is a highlight.