The year is barely half over and we are already getting the second English-language remake of a celebrated Quebec film. (The first was Delivery Man, the Vince Vaughn remake of Starbuck.)
The Grand Seduction, a remake of the French-Canadian film Seducing Dr. Lewis, changes the setting from a Quebec coastal town to the depressed-but-ruggedly-picturesque Newfoundland burg of Tickle Head. Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) is an unemployed fisherman slowly sliding into a state of unemployment torpor, collecting cheques from the government, stealing hydro and drowning his sorrows at the local pub.
He is shaken out of his lethargy by the departure of his wife (Cathy Jones), who moves to St. John's for a job, coincident with the departure of Tickle Head's mayor. Murray steps up to the task of attracting a petrochemical factory to bring employment back to the village, an impossibility until the town can get a doctor to take up residence.
Enter Dr. Lewis (Taylor Kitsch), an urbane plastic surgeon compelled by circumstance -- and a predilection for cocaine -- to serve for a single month as the doctor in the community. Murray learns everything he can about the doc to entice him to make his stay permanent. To do this, the whole village is enlisted into the con, pretending, among other things, an enthusiasm for cricket, Dr. Lewis's sport of choice.
A more likely enticement is Kathleen (Liane Balaban), the local postmistress, a woman unwilling to participate in the exercise in small-town theatre being perpetrated on the smitten doc.
After the disappointment of his last feature, Childstar (2004), director Don McKellar makes something of a comeback, displaying a deft hand with the comedy beats, undercut with an acknowledgement of the village's desperation for self-sufficiency. The script by Michael Dowse and Ken Scott allows us to be amused by the deception, but it also doesn't hold back on the cruelty of the masquerade, as when Murray, upon hearing that Dr. Lewis was raised without a father, contrives to be a father figure.
Gleeson is the kind of actor who can fearlessly evoke Murray's contradictory nature, encompassing concern for his community and a serious ruthless streak. If he doesn't happen to be an authentic Newfoundlander, McKellar stacks the deck with the likes of Jones, Gordon Pinsent (hilarious), Mary Walsh and Mark Critch as the town's put-upon bank manager, ever mindful of the possibility he could be replaced by an ATM.
Kitsch is mostly required to be a straight man for the entire cast, a task he assumes with ease and, perhaps, relief after doing duty as action star in expensive films such as John Carter and Battleship.
This is a sweet light-hearted comedy -- a rare beast in the dour Canfilm realm -- that honours the Quebec original with its smart transposition. Tonally, it owes an even greater debt to Bill Forsyth's droll 1983 masterpiece Local Hero, another movie about the supposedly guileless residents of a quaint seaside town pulling one over on the sophisticated city slicker in their midst.