Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has gone on record several times speaking about an alleged attitude of defeatism in my home region of Atlantic Canada, so I was excited when I heard about a film that might challenge that perception.
Set in a Newfoundland fishing community as small as they come – as one character points out, “It’s not a village, it’s a harbour.” – “The Grand Seduction” is a remake of a Québécois comedy with not much altered aside from the cast and the location. The town in question has financially dried up and, with all the residents relying on welfare cheques, they hatch a plan to entice a big-city doctor to come and live there so that an oil company will agree to build a factory and people can finally get back to work. Brendan Gleeson leads the charge as the mayor of Tickle Head and Taylor Kitsch stars opposite as the much-desired physician.
The choice to move the action from Quebec to the Maritimes is a significant one, and one that I hoped would aid in a rebuttal of Harper’s claims. Director Don McKellar and writer Ken Scott (who also penned the original “La grande séduction”) mostly succeed; the tenacity of the inhabitants as they refuse to take no for an answer displays a sense of hometown pride that was instantly recognizable. The familiarity didn’t end there, either: the production design and commendable photography also pay knowing tribute to the peculiar beauty of small-town life in the eastern provinces.
Gleeson has charming chemistry with Kitsch and native Newfoundlander Gordon Pinsent, and their delivery is well timed to get the most laughs out of some occasionally predictable jokes. The film also makes good use of visual gags, even if a few are revisited one too many times. If any part of the script is lacking, it’s in the development of plot and character. The story knows where it needs to go but not always how to get there, so superfluous moments of slapstick or caricature are used to tie together the bigger scenes or expose the next plot point. There have also been complaints of an underused romantic subplot, but in the current filmmaking climate that may be more of a strength than a weakness.
Nevertheless, my entire theatre audibly enjoyed the whole ride. As I sat down before the start of the show, I heard people in the rows behind me introducing themselves and offering seats and snacks to each other. It was a touch of the kind of warm-hearted pleasantry that this area is known for, and it’s the same atmosphere that “The Grand Seduction” was able to tap into for a genuinely pleasurable, homegrown experience.Continue Reading Issue #5
May 30, 2014 (limited)
1 hr. 53 min.
Taylor Kitsch, Brendan Gleeson, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban