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TORONTO — A tiny Newfoundland harbor town hopes to survive through deceit in Don McKellar‘s The Grand Seduction, a sort of Northern Exposure by way of the Full Monty school of comic working-class scheming. Here, the economic future of our heroes depends not on a strip-tease act but on tricking a doctor to move to town, paving the way for a new factory that will bring much-needed jobs. Adapting Ken Scott‘s script for the French-Canadian production Le Grande Seduction (Scott’s French-language Starbuck was also redone recently, for the forthcoming Vince Vaughn comedy Delivery Man), McKellar plays up the island’s Irish heritage by casting Brendan Gleeson as a fisherman forced to embrace politics; adding Taylor Kitsch as the newcomer further expands box office appeal for this charming, wholly commercial little comedy.
Gleeson plays Murray French, a once-proud breadwinner who now, like all his neighbors, lives off a welfare check. Prohibited from fishing enough to survive, townfolk are watching the community fade, but the mayor has a plan: He’s negotiating with a giant corporation to build a “petrochemical byproduct repurposing facility” here, but — in addition to a waiver for all taxes and the usual corporate welfare — the company insists it will only build in a community with a full-time doctor in residence.
Thanks to a happy accident, the mayor is able to trick big-city hunk Dr. Lewis (Kitsch) into agreeing to a one-month stint as the local physician. In a desperation-fueled surge of civic engagement, Murray convinces locals they must band together and remake the harbor as Lewis’s dream town, tricking him into wanting to sign the five-year contract the oil company requires.
Before he even arrives, hockey-loving townfolk are acquainting themselves with his favorite game, cricket, puzzling over its bizarre rules and cannibalizing their bedsheets to make team uniforms. They tap his phone, listening in on (sometimes racy) conversations with his fiancee to discern other likes and dislikes: After he pines for Indian food, the local chowderhouse mysteriously takes to offering curry dishes as specials; an unfortunate young music-lover is commanded to pretend he likes jazz so Lewis will have someone to spin records with.
The rickety deceptions are all chuckle-worthy, especially with an assist from briny characters like old Simon (Gordon Pinsent, a Newfoundland vet auds will recognize from Sarah Polley‘s Away from Her); Kitsch, who’s spent much time playing charismatic but less-than-brilliant young men, makes us just about believe that Dr. Lewis doesn’t see through the sham. (It helps that he’s distracted by a woman at the local post-office, played by Liane Balaban, who wants nothing to do with him.) But the film belongs to Gleeson, playing a decent man backed into a corner by life, enthusiastically ringleading an elaborate hoax that seems to be his only path back to an honest job.
Tech values are strong, playing up the jaw-dropping setting and the region’s pubby folk music. Plenty of city folk, doctors and otherwise, will find the idea of relocating here a romantic one.
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Galas)
Production Companies: Max Films, Morag Loves Company
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban, Mark Critch, Mary Walsh
Director: Don McKellar
Screenwriters: Michael Dowse, Ken Scott
Producers: Roger Frappier, Barbara Doran
Executive producers: Mark Sloane, Joe Iacono
Director of photography: Douglas Koch
Production designer: Guy Lalande
Music: Paul-Etienne Cote, Maxime Barzel, Francois-Pierre Lue
Costume designer: Denis Sperdouklis
Editor: Dominique Fortin
Sales: Voltage Pictures
No rating, 115 minutes
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