“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.