In the small sea harbor of Tickle Head, Newfoundland, the fishing industry has dried up. Everyone lines up once a month for welfare checks, cashes them, and then returns to their idle ways. Some, including the disheartened mayor, have opted for jobs in the capital city of St. John’s. When his wife chooses to do the same, Murray French (Gleeson) is shaken out of inaction. It seems an oil company is willing to build a petrochemical byproduct repurposing facility in the former fishing village, but there’s a catch. Tickle Head has no resident doctor, one of the requirements of the contract. And, it just so happens that hotshot plastic surgeon Paul Lewis (Kitsch) just got popped for cocaine possession. So, Paul gets one month of community service and heads to Tickle Head, and Murray and the town rally to make that four-week stay so enchanting for him that the doctor has no other course but to settle down and start a practice.
The Grand Seduction is an English-language remake of a 2003 Quebecois film which hit the States as Seducing Dr. Lewis. As earnestly directed by Don McKellar (Last Night), the film falls snugly into the “small town with an abundance of quirky characters attempts to overcome an obstacle via subterfuge” genre. Do scenes of the aforementioned quirky characters ineptly trying to learn to play cricket (a passion of the doctor’s) sound hilarious? Do you find the idea of elderly switchboard operators giggling over Paul’s mild phone sex with his girlfriend a comedic gold mine? Does the inevitable soul-searching everyone does when they realize what lying manipulators they are sound like a rewarding, cathartic experience for you? If you’ve answered yes to any of those questions – hell, if you’re still reading this – you may find some cinematic solace in The Grand Seduction.
As near as I can reckon, it’s all either a not-so-subtle attempt by the Newfoundland tourist board to boost visitors or an appropriately sentimental entry into the diminishing class of films you can take your grandmother to. Gleeson has never met a role he hasn’t inhabited completely and Kitsch, looking like Sam Rockwell’s baby brother, pairs with him nicely, but the film’s light and breezy tone is offset by weird undercurrents. Murray only gets off his ass when he realizes his wife would become the breadwinner of the family, and a girl’s virginity is considered as an incentive to keep the doctor in town. By the end of the film, when everyone’s happy as can be, working in the repurposing plant (please, like it was going to play out any other way), I couldn’t help but read the film as some sort of strange, rural corporate recruiting propaganda, an odd note to end on. As harmless pablum, The Grand Seduction is mildly arousing, just don’t expect it to follow through.