By NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
Don’t let the title fool you. Despite its rather risqué appellation, “The Grand Seduction” is a decidedly non-lascivious film. It contains only relatively subtle, off-screen indications that adults engage in sexual congress.
This is the English language remake of the Francophonic 2002 film, “Seducing Doctor Lewis.” The locale moves from the non-existent island of St. Marie-La-Mauderne off the coast of northern Quebec to the fictional harbor of Tickle Head in Newfoundland. The basic storyline and light comedic tone remain intact.
Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) is a cocky, young plastic surgeon with a bright future. However, while flying out of St. John’s, Newfoundland’s largest city, a customs agent busts him for carrying a small supply of cocaine. An impromptu deal is struck. If Dr. Lewis will provide free medical care to the residents of Tickle Head for a month, his transgression will be overlooked.
For decades, the populace of Tickle Head consisted of self-sufficient fishermen with small dinghies. However, they can’t compete with the advent of giant industrial fishing vessels, which troll the open sea. Many residents depart and seek opportunities elsewhere. The remaining adult males subsist on welfare. This constitutes a severe blow to their sense of pride. Mired in poverty, the hamlet is on the cusp of demise. A possible solution looms on the horizon. A large corporation is looking for a site to construct a plant, euphemistically referred to as petrochemical waste repurposing facility. There is one catch. To be eligible, a location must have a full-time resident physician.
The mayor, Murray (Brendan Gleeson), hatches a scheme to seduce Dr. Lewis into making Tickle Head his permanent home. The villagers reprise the purported ploy of 18th century Russian diplomat, Grigory Potemkin, to impress Czarina Catherine II, when she toured the Crimea. In advance of Dr. Lewis’s arrival, they transform their dilapidated homes with long overdue paint jobs and cosmetic repairs.
The ruse doesn’t stop there. Upon learning that Dr. Lewis is a cricket enthusiast, the clueless villagers stage a match and pretend that they play the sport regularly. The local telephone operator, Vera (Mary Walsh), eavesdrops on the physician’s conversations to discover his preferences and propensities. When she gleans that his favorite dish is lamb dhanask, the spicy Indian dish is abruptly incorporated into the local eatery’s otherwise bland menu.
Of course, if Dr. Lewis is to stay, he will need a female companion. Postal clerk, Kathleen (Liane Balaban), is the only attractive, age-appropriate single woman in Tickle Head. However, she is opposed to the petrochemical plant and moreover offended by Dr. Lewis’ apparent narcissism.
Taylor Kitsch first drew attention as the brooding, alcohol-swilling fullback on television’s “Friday Night Lights.” Kitsch’s career was undermined by being cast as the lead in a pair of 2012 multiplex clunkers, “John Carter” and “Battleship.” This smaller vehicle affords Kitsch an opportunity to establish that he is a decent actor with adequate screen presence, rather than a mere hunk.
Of course, schoolteacher turned actor, Brendan Gleeson, has no need to establish his bona fides as an actor. Dating back to his title role in “The General,” the Irish thespian always makes a strong impression. Here, Gleeson’s conniving character is a delight to behold.
“The Grand Seduction” venerates traditional, small town societies without recognizing their shortcomings. The film might be considered the cinematic Canadian analogue of television’s “Mayberry, R.F.D.” It portrays Tickle Head as an idyllic bastion of Anglo-Celtic purity. “The Grand Seduction” studiously ignores the xenophobic, racist, and patriarchal attitudes that dominate such locales. The ethnic diversity of St. John’s is unfavorably contrasted with the uncompromised whiteness of Tickle Head.
The film also overlooks certain realities. A big corporation does not need to rely on a bunch of provincial bumpkins to lure a physician. If a plant is economically viable, the corporation can simply hire their own doctor. Inevitably, the petrochemical plant will despoil the harbor’s pristine beauty. Moreover, the influx of outsiders as employees will end Tickle Head’s vaunted Caucasian exclusivity.
If you can look past the film’s anachronistic world view and obvious implausibilities, “The Grand Seduction” is a pleasant trifle.
“The Grand Seduction”
*** PG-13 (for some suggestive material and drug references) 113 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback